Tackling the war on drug trafficking

Navy News / April 12, 2018

By Lieutenant (Navy) Paul Pendergast

As Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Whitehorse and Edmonton slipped all lines and proceeded to sea from San Diego, Calif., on February 26, 2018, there was a palpable sense of seriousness among both crews.

As they exited the harbour, they turned south to begin their two-month deployment on Operation CARIBBE, Canada’s contribution to an international operation to stop illicit trafficking of drugs, weapons, money and people.

The eastern Pacific Ocean is a huge body of water, stretching for thousands of miles along the coast of South and Central America, and up to North America. It is along this maritime highway that drugs have been making their way onto the streets of Canada and the United States.

Since the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) began participating in Operation CARIBBE in 2006, they have contributed to the seizure of more than 83 tonnes of cocaine, and it shows no signs of slowing down. In 2017 alone, the CAF helped the U.S. Coast Guard seize or disrupt over 11.5 metric tonnes of cocaine.

These are drugs that are not reaching our streets and causing harm to our people. There is also a disruptive effect, where it becomes more difficult for criminal organizations to conduct their business.

For the crew of HMCS Whitehorse, deploying on this operation is the culmination of an intense period of planning and preparation. In October 2017, the crew of HMCS Brandon conducted a hull transfer to HMCS Whitehorse, which had just completed a six-month docking work period of planned maintenance and painting, and the installation of new equipment.

Then began the process of bringing the ship and crew to the level of proficiency that is required for this type of deployment. This is achieved through a tiered readiness program during which Sea Training (Pacific) tests the ship and crew in increasingly realistic and complex scenarios until they are determined to be fully ready for the mission. The program ensures the ship meets safety and administrative standards, and that the crew can conduct the full gamut of seamanship evolutions. These include replenishment at sea, tow exercises and helicopter hoists.

During the program, HMCS Whitehorse also visited Seattle, Wash., to train in foreign port duty watch routines and other activities.

In January, the U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) travelled to Esquimalt, B.C., to see the ship and meet with the crew in order to develop a working relationship that will be critical to the success of the mission.

Before departing Esquimalt on February 16, all crew members had to be assessed to ensure they were medically fit to deploy, and any members that were not had to be replaced.

With Sea Training (Pacific) embarked, they conducted mission readiness training designed to prepare them for the specific task of monitoring and interdicting illicit drug shipments.

The first stop was in San Diego, where Sea Training disembarked, having achieved its job of bringing the ships to the required level of readiness. With a U.S. Coast Guard LEDET now embarked in each ship, they were ready to begin the operation.

It takes several days to transit to the patrol areas on the west coast of Central America. The first few days of the operation were dedicated to LEDET integration training to confirm tactics and procedures were aligned, and to get the crew of Whitehorse working with the LEDET as one team.

Lieutenant-Commander Collin Forsberg, Commanding Officer of HMCS Whitehorse, was eager to begin the hunt. This is his second Operation CARIBBE and his first in command.

“This crew is the most capable I have ever seen on a vessel of this size, and with the addition of the LEDET, they are fully ready to carry out this mission,” he said. “Although these criminal organizations will continue trafficking to North America, the effective partnership between the Royal Canadian Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard and all the other nations involved in JIATFS [Joint Interagency Task Force South], has caused a serious disruption of their efforts, and the result is less drugs reaching the streets of cities like Los Angeles, Toronto and Vancouver.”