Sailor’s “unrelenting efforts” during tow-line incident lead to Meritorious Service Medal

Navy News / April 25, 2014

A chief petty officer in HMCS Athabaskan has been awarded a Meritorious Service Medal for his “initiative and unrelenting efforts” in executing crucial repairs to the ship’s tow-line while at sea.

Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel William Rowe received the honour from the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of Canada, during a recent ceremony at Rideau Hall. The Meritorious Service Medal (Military Division) recognizes a military deed or activity performed in a highly professional manner, according to a very high standard that brings benefit or honour to the Canadian Armed Forces.

CPO2 Rowe’s award is the result of an incident which took place December 28 to 29, 2012, when Athabaskan was under tow to Halifax after an extensive refit in Port Weller, Ont. While off the coast of Cape Breton Island, the tug’s tow-line abruptly parted and the ship began dangerously drifting toward Scatarie Island, just off the coast of Nova Scotia. Working from the tug in gale-force winds and three- to five-metre waves, CPO2 Rowe prevented the unmanned Athabaskan from running aground.

For the next two hours, the tug unsuccessfully tried to reposition herself as close as possible to Athabaskan in an attempt to transfer CPO2 Rowe and the tug’s first mate to the ship in order to reconnect the tow. However, due to harsh weather conditions, this proved to be impossible.

Realizing that Athabaskan was quickly approaching shallow water and drifting towards Scatarie Island, CPO2 Rowe immediately seized the initiative and contacted the Regional Joint Operations Centre in Halifax. It was determined that a helicopter hoist was the only option, and a Royal Canadian Air Force Cormorant soon arrived on-station over the tug. A high risk hoist transfer was conducted with CPO2 Rowe and the first mate.

Once aboard Athabaskan, CPO2 Rowe made a quick assessment of the situation and attempted numerous times, unsuccessfully, to recover and reattach the original tow-line.  Realizing that further action was essential to prevent the ship from drifting aground, CPO2 Rowe used the existing lock-line (a line used to hold a ship in place while it transits through locks) on board the ship as a temporary tow-line to be passed to the tug. This was successful and as a result, allowed for Athabaskan to be towed towards Sydney Harbour, N.S.

Remaining fully cognizant of the harsh weather conditions, CPO2 Rowe developed and implemented innovative measures to ensure that a contingency plan was in place should Athabaskan once again part her tow-line. With the assistance of the first mate, he hauled the heavy and cumbersome 150-metre lock-line from one end of the ship to the other and fastened a buoy to the line. In the event that the tow should part again, this new line would be lowered and with the aid of the buoy allow for quick and safe means for the tug to recover and reattach the tow-line.

Later, the tow-line did in fact part for a second time and with CPO2 Rowe’s contingency plan implemented, the tow was able to be reconnected quickly and safely. Moreover, during the transit to Sydney Harbour, the tow-line parted on two other occasions and through CPO2 Rowe’s quick actions, the tow was again reconnected in a timely manner, thus keeping Athabaskan under firm control and away from danger.

According to the information provided in his nomination narrative for a Meritorious Service Medal, throughout this ordeal CPO2 Rowe demonstrated an acute awareness of the seriousness of the situation. “His gallant actions and superb effort, when it was apparent that the towing provider was struggling to find solutions to the rapidly deteriorating situation, were extraordinary. His brilliant technical acumen rectifying the initial tow break and superb self-initiated measures put in place as alternate tow connection measures are unprecedented. These actions were carried out in severe weather conditions, in darkness, aboard an unmanned warship, lacking power over an extended period of time, without respite and with minimal support.”