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Officers, crew of HMCS Regina helicopter honour Humboldt Broncos with call sign

Somewhere in the Indian Ocean near the Somalian coast, HMCS Regina is doing double duty in honouring the people of Saskatchewan. The Esquimalt-based Canadian navy frigate bears the name of the provincial capital city.

Somewhere in the Indian Ocean near the Somalian coast, HMCS Regina is doing double duty in honouring the people of Saskatchewan.

The Esquimalt-based Canadian navy frigate bears the name of the provincial capital city. Now officers and crew of the ship’s helicopter have adopted “Bronco” as the aircraft’s call sign, honouring the junior hockey club from Humboldt, Sask., whose team bus was in a deadly crash on a rural road on April 6, 2018.

Sixteen Broncos were killed and 13 injured in the crash, evoking horror, grief and memorials across Canada. Now, the Royal Canadian Navy is paying its own homage.

“We are already connected to the province of Saskatchewan with the ship name,” said Regina’s captain, Cmdr. Jake French, in a satellite telephone call from his onboard cabin.

“So now memory of the Humboldt Broncos was why the helicopter was named as such,” said French.

He also said Bronco’s deployment marks a first. HMCS Regina is the first Pacific-based vessel to deploy with the Navy’s newest CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, replacement for the old Sea Kings.

Since March 26, HMCS Regina, with her crew of 240, has been plying the waters off the Middle East, part of Operation Artemis, an ongoing 33-nation effort aimed at keeping those waters free from piracy, terrorism, and smuggling of narcotics, weapons and people.

Artemis is Canada’s contribution to the free and safe navigation of international waters in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean and dates back at least as far as 2002.

This year, Regina is supported by an RCAF CP-140 Aurora, a long-range, fixed-wing, surveillance aircraft. Also along in support is MV Asterix, the combined civilian/military vessel carrying stores and fuel to replenish Regina and allied ships when called upon.

This also marks Regina’s third Artemis deployment. The previous ones were in 2012 and 2014.

For its current deployment, Regina departed its home port of CFB Esquimalt on Feb. 6 and sailed first to Asia Pacific waters to conduct Operation Projection. It’s another multinational task force asserting the free sailing of international waters.

After completing Projection, Regina sailed for the Indian Ocean, stopping briefly in the Seychelles, the archipelago nation where the Artemis task-force commanders are staying.

French said Regina’s crew, now only two months into its seven-month mission, is in good morale and performing well, even under the 30 C plus temperatures of the region.

“Everybody is doing great,” he said. “And the ship’s company is extremely excited to be doing what we are doing.”

French said this mission is the first it has undertaken with Asterix. The supply ship’s presence offers new freedom to move and act for Regina. The crew has been also getting good practice refuelling and transferring stores at sea.

“It keeps us going at sea longer and gives us that persistent presence that we need,” he said. “And the ship’s company enjoys the seamanship of it, getting the stores over and fuel when we need it.”

French said during this Artemis mission, Regina has also taken on board a 10-person naval tactical operations group.

These sailors are deployed in fast-moving Zodiac-style boats and are specialists in boarding vessels at sea, looking for illegal narcotics or weapons.

It’s expected the tactical specialists will be kept busy checking and boarding craft such as the Arab dhows, a traditional-style boat with a long, thin hull widely used in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

“I can’t say they [the tactical group] will always be operating under a lot of threat,” said French. “But when they are dealing with these dhows, there is always a little bit of risk.”

“They are a great addition to Regina,” he said.

French said he expected the naval tactical specialists might not always board vessels. They might just approach, greet, talk and gather intelligence.

But if something suspicious is noted, the teams have an international, legal mandate to board and search a vessel for illicit items, whose trafficking often supports terrorist networks.

French said in many ways, Regina’s role in Artemis resembles an old-style cop walking a beat. But instead of pavement, the ship is patrolling the high seas, keeping them safe for international trade and commerce.

“We’ll check guys out and throw our headlights on behind people to let them know we are there,” he said. “It can feel a little bit like law enforcement, but it’s really about enforcing a coalition mandate.”

“It’s maritime security, not really law enforcement,” said French.

He also said Canadians should know their navy is keeping international waters safe for trade and travel and free of illegal commerce that can fund terrorist networks.

“Canada is now a leader in this region in terms of contributing maritime vessels, air force assets and showing a strong commitment to maritime security,” said French.

“The security of this region and all international waters affects all Canadians in some ways,” he said.

Regina is expected back in Esquimalt in late August.

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