Maintaining a naval presence in the North

Crowsnest - Fall 2013 / November 4, 2013

By Darlene Blakeley

A 39-day mission north of the 60th parallel for two maritime coastal defence vessels this summer marked the Royal Canadian Navy’s longest uninterrupted Arctic naval presence in recent years.

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships Summerside and Shawinigan, crewed primarily by naval reservists, left Halifax in late July for Operations Nanook and Qimmiq. Their northern deployment showcased the RCN’s ability to operate effectively in the challenging Arctic environment, providing valuable training opportunities for sailors. As well, it strengthened links with government partners by enhancing cooperation and facilitating support in response to potential future threats and hazards such as disaster relief and security operations.  

Op Nanook is the Canadian Armed Forces’ annual sovereignty operation held in Canada’s North. It is the key whole-of-government operation for the region, involving multiple government departments along with provincial, territorial, municipal and other key stakeholders. Op Qimmiq is a year-round surveillance and presence operation charged with gathering surveillance information and providing a Canadian presence in remote Arctic regions. It also supports mutual defence and bilateral agreements with Canada’s international allies.

This year Op Nanook involved more than 1,000 personnel and took place from August 2 to 23 in four separate areas of the North: Whitehorse, Yukon; and Cornwallis Island, King William Island and Resolution Island, all in Nunavut.

“The 2013 edition of Op Nanook showcased the diverse capabilities the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) bring to the table on land, in the air, and at sea,” said Captain (Navy) Derek Moss, Deputy Commander of Joint Task Force North. “From responding to public safety emergencies in Whitehorse to supporting RCMP and Environment Canada law enforcement mandates across Nunavut, the CAF performed a variety of tasks designed to enhance compatibility with various departments and organizations, as well as to promote public confidence in our ability to respond anywhere and anytime when called upon.”

He added that the RCN’s presence in the Arctic “continues to provide sailors with valuable training opportunities and unique memories of northern scenes and people that will last a lifetime.”

During the deployment, Summerside logged approximately 25 days north of the Arctic Circle, traveled more than 4,600 nautical miles, and exceeded 78 degrees north.

“Most of our mission focused on underwater survey operations to bring northern charts up to modern survey standards, ensuring safe and precise navigation to shipping, as well as providing a better understanding of Canada’s sovereign waters,” explained Lieutenant-Commander Jason Karle, Summerside’s commanding officer.

Additionally, Summerside engaged in various community visits throughout her deployment, including Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay and Grise Fiord. “This provided an excellent opportunity for our presence to be seen in the North,” LCdr Karle added. “It also offered many wonderful and enriching moments between the local community and members of the ship’s company to relate and share our experiences.”

Summerside also conducted two days of operations and exchanged sailors with Danish Navy Ship Vaederren. “This experience dramatized, on a small scale, the enthusiasm and commitment between our navies,” said LCdr Karle.

One of the highlights of Shawinigan’s participation in Op Nanook was the transfer of members of the Arctic Response Company Group (35th Canadian Brigade Group) and elements of the RCMP from Canadian Coast Guard Ship Pierre Radisson to her own deck while the two ships were tied together at anchor. Shawinigan subsequently conducted a beach landing of all personnel, while Pierre Radisson simultaneously disembarked the Canadian Ranger Patrol Group and their associated equipment by helicopter.

“The overwhelming success of this operation, and the professionalism with which it was executed, once again demonstrates the ability of various federal government departments to work closely together and accomplish difficult tasks in Canada’s Arctic on short notice,” said LCdr Frank Campbell, Shawinigan’s commanding officer. “This whole-of-government approach is critical to Canada’s ongoing efforts to provide physical and environmental security of Canada’s Arctic waters and exercise our sovereignty in the area.”

Both ships were back in Halifax by mid-September.