Jetty A at CFB Esquimalt was one of the happiest places in Greater Victoria Friday, as HMCS Ottawa and its crew reunited with families and friends after 53 days at sea patrolling for drug traffickers in the Caribbean.
During the mission, the 240 crew members intercepted a Costa Rican fishing boat carrying more than a tonne of cocaine and heading to North America.
But that wasn’t what interested five-year-old Hailey Gates, who was there to welcome dad Edward Gates, 29, a naval communicator: “Daddy has a mustache,” said Hailey, who had been “counting sleeps” until her father returned home, according to mother Amanda Gates.
The Ottawa crew boarded the Costa Rican vessel with the U.S. Coast Guard to find drugs with a street value of $145 million. The crew of the fishing vessel and the 1,086 kilograms of cocaine were turned over to Costa Rican authorities in that country.
The navy has been involved with the campaign since 2006 but this was its first bust of this magnitude, said Commander Scott Van Will. Usually, no more than 300 kilograms is involved, he added, after the ship had docked in bright sunshine.
“Oh my God, it’s exciting,” says Jodi Pedro, 27, with 20-month-old Vienna in her arms. “I’m pregnant, which also adds to the excitement. I wasn’t showing when [husband Jermaine] left. I’m showing now.”
Newlywed Laurie Aeichele wore a Santa hat and held up a huge sign welcoming her husband, steward Wayne Aeichele. The two married on Sept. 29 and he sailed on Oct. 9. “It was horrible — come on,” she said. “I can’t wait to get him in the sack.”
Aeichele said she “couldn’t be any more proud” of the undertaking and sacrifices of the crew.
Tina Meikle, who was there with Alex, eight, and Samantha, three, is glad her husband will be home for Christmas, since he was in Libya last year. Samantha can’t wait to play Xbox with her dad, while Alex will help him put up the tree, which they’ve saved to decorate together.
Van Will said he was glad to be back after a successful deployment that covered about 12,000 nautical miles.
As well as catching drug dealers, the crew rescued two giant sea turtles caught in a large fishing net off Costa Rica that was being circled by a third turtle, Van Will said. The crew encountered up to 15 high-speed fishing vessels in its efforts to combat “narco-terrorism.”
The crew will spend several weeks in Esquimalt before it’s scheduled to head for exercises in Hawaii at the end of January.
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