Esquimalt-based navy ship HMCS Protecteur is being towed to port after being stranded for nearly two days in open waters northeast of Hawaii following a fire that ripped through its engine room and injured about 20 sailors.
The American navy's USS Chosin successfully took the beleaguered supply ship under tow in rough weather conditions at about 6 p.m. on Saturday. High winds and seas marred previous attempts.
On Sunday night, in rough seas, the line broke. It was re-attached and the journey resumed.
“Any operation at sea is weather dependent,” said Commodore Bob Auchterlonie at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.
The vessels are being accompanied by USS Michael Murphy and will meet USNS Sioux, an ocean fleet tug, for further assistance. They are travelling at about nine kilometres per hour and are expected to reach Pearl Harbor mid-week.
The fire occurred on the ship when it was about 630 kilometres northeast of Hawaii.
While the 279 crew of Protecteur remained on the ship, which has limited electrical power, the 17 family members and two civilian contractors who were on board have been transferred to Michael Murphy.
Auchterlonie said the family members will also be taken to Pearl Harbor, where a Victoria delegation will help them arrange travel home.
The engine-room fire, which damaged machinery that controls the vessel’s propulsion, was reported Thursday night. About 20 sailors who fought the fire were treated for minor injuries, including smoke inhalation and dehydration.
USS Michael Murphy and USS Chosin, a navy cruiser, took supplies to Protecteur by helicopter.
The sailors aboard Protecteur are “making the best of this and the living conditions are improving,” Auchterlonie said.
The ship has fresh water, and galley services and secure communications — including phones and email — have been restored.
A U.S. Navy SH-60 B Sea Hawk prepares to unload materials aboard the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Protecteur. Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Johans Chavarro
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Auchterlonie took note of the toll on families, who expected the sailors back in Greater Victoria on Wednesday after a two-month deployment.
“They’re obviously anxious, as anybody would be. But they are also a really resilient bunch.”
He said families could expect calls from the ship as of Saturday.
“I had two ladies come up to me, very pregnant. So obviously they’re concerned about when their husbands are going to get home,” Auchterlonie said. “I promised them their husbands would be home when they are due later this month.”
The commodore could not say how or when the Protecteur crew or ship would return to Esquimalt. Nor could he say what caused the fire or give the extent of its damage.
“We will tow Protecteur back to Hawaii. Once she’s alongside, our first priority is the crew,” he said. “And then we’re going to commence efforts to assess the damage on board Protecteur and prepare for her return to Esquimalt. I don’t know what form or what that looks like right now.”
Protecteur is one of two Canadian supply ships and the only one on the west coast. When the fire broke out, it was returning home after conducting sea exercises with the U.S. navy.
The Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Protecteur is towed behind the American navy's guided-missile cruiser USS Chosin (CG 65) on Saturday, March 1, 2014. Photo: Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Johans Chavarro
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