Royal Canadian Navy Update of April 1 - Ongoing COVID-19 Response

COVID-19 / April 1, 2020

Shipmates & families,

These are interesting and unprecedented times - are they not? I very much hope that you and your clan have been successfully enduring the pandemic challenges. I’m happy to say that I believe we have been doing quite well in this regard right across the CAF and RCN family – both as it pertains to sailors and their families as well as, as best I can track, in our veteran community too! I continue to pray for every one of our extended family be they sailor, veteran or family, and I look ahead with confidence that we will in not too long (albeit some time yet!) be on the other side of this and hopefully returning to normal.

 Let me kick-off this week’s update in the most obvious and enduring of places: Thank you all for supporting those shipmates (& their families) who are either preparing to deploy or who are already at-sea/overseas amidst the pandemic. I specifically want to send a heartfelt thank you to the families of our deployed members for your continued understanding of our important missions and for the sacrifices that you continue to make to enable us to complete our tasks - particularly during this turbulent and stressful time.

Having raised the subject of our ongoing lines-of-effort, I’ll now share the latest information on our missions/tasks and enduring activities in addition to updating you on just some of the measures that we’re taking throughout the Navy as part of our pandemic responses.

As you already know, all units within the RCN are minimizing the presence of sailors and civilian staff in the workplace and following Public Health guidance for hygiene and physical distancing to the greatest extent possible. This remains a central priority for everyone – it’s certainly not business as usual!

To the point that these are extraordinary times, and while highlighting that we are all indeed obviously doing everything we can to contribute to our successful pandemic defence, I share too that in light of the unprecedented nature of the pandemic we face and the requirements of our ongoing national response efforts, the RCN has decided to officially defer this year’s BOA commemoration activities (including the ceremony at the War Memorial on Sunday 3 May (and other navy-driven ceremonial events at cities/towns across the country) and the run-up events in the days and weeks immediately preceding the ceremony).

As you’ll be tracking, this decision aligns too, with the recent announcement by the Naval Association of Canada (NAC) that, following consultation with the RCN, the NAC BOA Gala Dinner previously scheduled for Thu 30 Apr at the National War Museum is deferred. Of course, it is intended that we’ll reset to have all previously planned 75th anniversary BOA commemoration events, ceremonies and gala scheduled for a Fall date – perhaps coincident with NIOBE Day (TBD) – if the pandemic situation allows. More to follow in due course, but, in the meantime, you should expect some guidance and encouragement soon from the RCN as to how we can all individually and safely salute our amazing predecessors – the veterans of the Battle of the Atlantic as well as the other wars and operations conducted since in which the RCN has repeatedly distinguished itself as a proven warfighting service – come the first Sunday in May – this being the first time since their success that we won’t assemble to salute them and the broad successes of our fighting Service!

In other significant programme changes, you’ll have heard that the RCN joined the remainder of the CAF in curtailing training and education activities across the country. As a result, our schoolhouses are shut down and only critical force generation training will continue on a very limited basis either ashore or at-sea – such as can be seen off our Pacific Coast where HMC Ships REGINA and BRANDON are at-sea in consort with and support of HMCS CALGARY as CALGARY undergoes final pre-deployment readiness training. 

Naturally, our ships/subs - and other sea-going units, such as our Fleet Diving Units - are prepared to implement a range of preventative health measures and response plans onboard in order to limit the crew’s potential exposure to COVID-19. Of course, these measures are in effect in our ships at-sea and also comprise the starting point of preparations for any future sailings. Meanwhile, leadership teams are adopting additional mitigation strategies such as restricting shore-leave while in foreign ports, making special arrangements for messing (eating) on-board ship, practicing social distancing to extent possible in our workplaces (usually easily done ashore but also done to extent possible at-sea through such techniques as limiting-musters, etc.), and managing gatherings.

While the trajectory of COVID-19 cannot be predicted with certainty, we are doing everything possible to ensure the health and safety of our sailors at-sea, cognizant that this is essential to our ability to remain operationally deployed. As a result, our operations are continuing – modified on a case-by-case basis, quite naturally, as appropriate considering the nature of the respective mission/tasks, the robustness of the class of ship, and the area of operations and its pandemic considerations.  Consider:   

Operation CARIBBE –

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) NANAIMO and WHITEHORSE are now returning to Canada earlier than planned from Operation CARIBBE, where they had been helping stop the flow of illegal narcotics in the Caribbean Basin and Eastern Pacific region – keeping drugs off our streets and denying funds to transnational criminals and terrorists that might otherwise do us harm. The decision to suspend the NANAIMO & WHITEHORSE employments early was taken in consultation with our US counterparts after due consideration for the aspects listed above and is aimed at limiting our sailors’ potential exposure to COVID-19 (and especially in light of ready accessibility to fulsome medical support) while also affording us maximum capacity to preserve at-sea readiness/capability to carry out core missions in support of the Government of Canada if tasked once the ships return home. The ships are now planned to return to Canada in early April (instead of May).

Operation PROJECTION West Africa –

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships GLACE BAY and SHAWINIGAN will, likewise, also return to Canada earlier than planned from Operation PROJECTION West Africa for similar reasons as well as owing to the cancellation of two scheduled international exercises. USN-led annual African Theatre exercises OBANGAME EXPRESS and PHOENIX EXPRESS were cancelled in response to the global effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. With these cancellations, the ships are now also planning to return to Canada in early April (instead of May).

Operation REASSURANCE –

Not surprisingly given a frigate’s robustness, HMCS FREDERICTON’s mission in support of Operation REASSURANCE, a premiere pan-domain, CAF/Canadian contribution to collective defence in the Euro-Atlantic theatre, is obviously continuing to provide a maritime presence in the Mediterranean and Black Sea theatre of operations to reassure our NATO partners of Canada’s ongoing commitment to the Alliance. We are part of the force that is standing ready to execute CAF and NATO missions in that part of the world, and that vital role is continuing.

Coastal Ready Duty Ships –

Meanwhile, in our own operations areas, the Ready Duty Ships we maintain on each coast continue to be ready as always, whether they’re at-sea or alongside, to act as a vanguard naval response to short-notice tasks – a capacity that looms large in these uncertain times. As detailed above, on the Pacific coast, our RDS and Stand-by RDS, REGINA and BRANDON, are currently at sea where, after initial widely-publicized challenges in REGINA, they remain isolated from infection. On the East coast, meanwhile, since the onset of this pandemic arrived with our RDS and Stand-by RDS both alongside, we’ve determined it prudent - even though they have been at home for a considerable period and there are no indications that they have been exposed - to take the extraordinary precautionary measure of sequestering the VILLE DE QUEBEC and MONCTON crews (inclusive of an Air Detachment in VDQ) in commercial accommodation for a 14-day period prior to having them embark in their ships to ready for any call to action.

Force Generation Sailing –

Obviously you are all curious too as to what is planned with respect to the remainder of the existing Fleet Schedules. In much the same way as we have reduced to minimum staffing across our workplaces, we’ve taken the same wire-brush to our immediate (ie; next 60 day) coastal sailing plans. Therefore, I share that only essential sailings (ie; those related to critical national defence and security objectives including essential pre-deployment readiness training/trials and RDS (or other) local force employment sailings) will be conducted UFN so that the RCN is best poised to contribute to the pan-CAF Operation LASER (pandemic response) and Operation LENTUS (domestic emergency) efforts with ships and/or sailors.

Rightly, we have commensurately scaled back activities at our two Fleet Maintenance Facilities as well. The limited enduring effort here essentially comprises only the repair, maintenance, and engineering activities required to support LASER/LENTUS requirements as well as deployed, imminently deploying, and Ready Duty ships. Of course, our national and coastal technical and engineering teams are also ensuring that our responsibilities continue to be delivered upon as necessary in work being done collaboratively with partner Industrial Yards and businesses – work critical not only to capability delivery/maintenance but also to keeping Canadians employed in the challenging times.

Finally, shipmates, I know many of you are at home when what you want to be doing is contributing and helping to support ongoing missions such as these ones, but rest assured, preserving the force is one of our top priorities right now. The best thing for you to do if you are in this situation is to stay physically and mentally fit should the call come in to the RCN for help. Our mental resilience in times of stress cannot be ignored, and must be fostered in ourselves, and our families. You read/heard the order so simply expressed by our Chief of Defence Staff: “Stay fit to fight; [which is to say] Stay Frosty!”

 

 Yours Aye,

Vice-Admiral Art McDonald
Commander Royal Canadian Navy