RCN keeps ships COVID free and ready to help Canadians, lead operations

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Navy News / December 9, 2020

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has kept its ships COVID free while continuing to conduct operations at home and abroad by introducing new procedures on ships and bases since the beginning of the pandemic.

Close collaboration with Canadian Forces Health Services, regional Surgeon’s offices and health authorities played a significant role in developing the RCN’s COVID policies and facilitated COVID testing in order to get our ships to sea.

Increased cleaning routines, personal hygiene, quarantining before embarking on a ship and testing for COVID are  the main precautionary measures that are maintaining a COVID-free ‘bubble’ and allow for normal socialization while on board ships.

“This approach is allowing us, as a maritime force including our CH-148 Cyclone helicopters, to have unimpeded operational availability in response to requirements at home and overseas,” said Vice-Admiral (VAdm) Art McDonald, Commander RCN.

To date there has been no significant operational impact caused by COVID to any deployed ship, though there have been many changes in the way we operate at sea and while alongside in foreign ports. While ships that aren’t refueling at sea are still coming alongside in foreign ports for fuel and stores, the crews maintain a COVID-free bubble by strictly complying with public health measures.

Since the pandemic began the RCN has deployed approximately 2,750 sailors on 15 ships for more than 800 days at sea on international and domestic operations on board Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Halifax, SummersideShawinigan, Glace Bay, Calgary, Regina, Brandon, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Nanaimo, Whitehorse, Fredericton, Toronto and Ville de Québec and Naval Replenishment Unit (NRU) Asterix to Operations (Ops) PROJECTION Asia-Pacific, NEON, CARIBBE, REASSURANCE, NANOOK; the Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC); and Exercise JOINT WARRIOR.

In order to ensure COVID-free operations on HMC Submarines, crew members are wearing face masks while onboard in addition to the same quarantine protocols and COVID tests done before embarking on HMC Ships.

These precautions proved successful in returning HMCS Victoria to sea and will be adapted to support HMCS Windsor’s return to sea. As prevalence of the virus in the local community increases or decreases, measures continue to be adapted to better support a balance between operational commitments and the rate of COVID infection in the community.

“We acknowledge the unique demands now being placed on our submariners,” said Captain (Navy) Jean Stéphane Ouellet, Commander Canadian Submarine Force. “Our COVID posture minimizes the risk of transmission while enabling the Canadian Submarine Force to conduct operations in a persistent COVID-19 environment.”

Sailors and those who support them and our ships have had to work harder and longer than normal within the precautions put in place to continue to allow our ships to sustain the high pace of international operations and assist Canadians when called upon. When a sailboat was trapped in a storm on August 16, HMCS Whitehorse was ready to help and rescued the two crew members under the darkness of night in three-metre-high seas.

“The heavy winds and sea state, the near total darkness, the erratic movements of the sailing boat and the inability to board the boat made this one of the more dangerous and tricky search and rescue operations I’ve personally been involved with,” said Lieutenant-Commander Jeff Chura, who assisted with the rescue from Whitehorse’s Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB).

In August approximately 500 sailors aboard HMC Ships Regina and Winnipeg participated in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2020. The intensive two weeks included anti-submarine warfare, maritime interdiction operations and live missile firings.

Two CH-148 Cyclones and their crews performed exceptionally well throughout the exercise, the first occasion for the Royal Canadian Air Force to deploy these helicopters in the biennial exercise.

“During one surface exercise we were deployed as the air asset to advance and find the enemy fleet,” said Major Kris Sutton, Winnipeg’s Air Detachment Commander.

“We climbed to an appropriate altitude, picked up the radar tracks, and identified them while remaining outside the threat they posed to the aircraft. We were able to get those positive confirming details to the ship, which allowed them to target the enemy fleet before the enemy fleet got to them. It was impressive to see.”

In September HMC Ships Ville de Québec and Halifax departed from Halifax to join HMCS Toronto, Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1) and the Royal Navy off the coast of Scotland to participate in in JOINT WARRIOR.

HMCS Ville de QuébecHMCS Halifax and the rest of the Canadian-led Task Group conducted a “SWARMEX” – a surface exercise with multiple ships in a combat scenario, practiced gunnery exercises and responded to a simulated attack. The ship’s company responded quickly and successfully defended their ship in each of the scenarios.

After participating in RIMPAC, approximately 250 sailors and an air crew deployed overseas on HMCS Winnipeg and will be in the Asia-Pacific region until December supporting Operations PROJECTION Asia-Pacific and NEON.

Op PROJECTION Asia-Pacific aims to make the world more secure and enhance relationships with Canada’s allies and partners. Op NEON supports United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea. Winnipeg is performing surveillance operations to identify suspected evasion activities, in particular ship-to-ship transfers of fuel and other commodities currently banned under the sanctions. Winnipeg’s deployment demonstrates the RCN is ready to defend Canada’s interests and ongoing commitment to international peace.

HMCS Toronto is deployed in the Baltic region of Northern Europe SNMG1 while on Op REASSURANCE. The ship and its embarked CH-148 Cyclone helicopter have been conducting maritime security patrols to support NATO assurance and deterrence measures in the region. In September Toronto and SNMG1 Portuguese flagship Corte-Real conducted above-water warfare serials with Finnish Navy ships.

Some deployed ships have come up with unique approaches to give their crews rest and recreational time while alongside to maintain unit moral.

Ville de Québec held an all-day ball hockey tournament on the jetty and over the May long weekend they set up propane fireplaces and had a barbecue with s’mores and karaoke.

Halifax’s crew took a short break from their busy program while deployed on JOINT WARRIOR 20-2 to celebrate Thanksgiving, welcoming extra guests from Sea Training Atlantic for dinner.

After two months at sea, Winnipeg’s crew was treated to a SWIMEX. “The newest member of the ship's company – our pink flamingo float – even came out for a swim,” said the ship on Twitter.

In October HMCS Harry DeWolf, our first Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship, departed Halifax to begin Basic Single Ship Readiness Training that will take place over the upcoming months. Operations are planned near Newfoundland and Labrador in preparation for the first Arctic deployment in 2021.

The additional time spent in isolation and working within stringent health precautions has placed more strain than usual on our sailors at sea, those who support them and their families and friends.

RCN leadership sincerely thanks those of you who make daily sacrifices, often unseen, that allow our sailors to support Canada’s missions, whether they are contributing to peace and security overseas or taking care of the vulnerable and ill at home to limit the spread of COVID-19 in our communities.

As one family member put it, we may not be able to gather with our loved ones, but we can still support each other as a larger family through these difficult times. We stand united to combat this pandemic and will face the new challenges it brings, together as sailors, and brothers and sisters in arms.