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HMCS Calgary charts a series of firsts at sea

HMCS Calgary set sail for CFB Esquimalt Tuesday after five months in the Asia-Pacific region establishing a new round of first-time achievements for the Royal Canadian Navy.
Naval communicators Ordinary Seaman Kathryn Struthers, left, and Leading Seaman Chrystal Lavigne stand watch on the bridge.

HMCS Calgary set sail for CFB Esquimalt Tuesday after five months in the Asia-Pacific region establishing a new round of first-time achievements for the Royal Canadian Navy.

“We really did move the yardstick in terms of showing what we can do in a coalition setting,” said Cmdr. Blair Saltel, commanding officer of HMCS Calgary.

Saltel said during its deployment HMCS Calgary became the first Canadian naval vessel to visit Da Nang in modern Vietnam. The ship’s crew made friends at a school and passed along money to build a new classroom. In gratitude, the ship’s name will be hung on a classroom wall.

He said HMCS Calgary joined other navies in the region to enforce United Nations resolutions levelled against North Korea, the first Canadian vessel to do so. No ships were boarded but photos were taken that might empower future legal action.

Forces members on HMCS Calgary conduct a liquid replenishment at sea, transferring fuel from one vessel to another during Operation Projection. - Leading Seaman Mike Goluboff

And HMCS Calgary conducted Exercise Keen Sword with ships from the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force, the Japanese navy, another first for the Royal Canadian Navy.

Saltel spoke to Canadian reporters Tuesday from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii just prior to to his ship setting off for home.

The vessel is expected back around Dec. 20.

HMCS Calgary embarked in July for the Asia Pacific to conduct what was named Operation Projection. During the deployment the ship sailed to Guam, sailed on exercise with the Royal Australian Navy and participated in a naval review with the South Korea’s navy.

During the deployment HMCS Calgary sailed in the South China Sea, where territorial disputes, most notably with China, mean its waters now have, Saltel said, “the highest concentration of military forces in the world.”

He said throughout HMCS Calgary’s time in the South China Sea the ship was “shadowed” by a Chinese naval vessel.

Saltel said he relied on the experience of friendly navies in the region on how to deal with the Chinese navy. Also, there exists an established protocol, Conduct for Unexpected Encounters at Sea, established by Western Pacific Navy Symposium.

“The exchanges we had with them [Chinese navy] were quite professional,” he said.

“They never really came within a distance I would have considered unsafe.”

Sailing with HMCS Calgary was the Canadian navy’s new vessel MV Asterix, a former merchant vessel converted to a tanker and re-supply ship to give Canada’s warships the ability to spend longer times at sea without entering port or asking for supplies from other navies.

The presence of MV Asterix means a return of the expeditionary capabilities lost in 2014 when re-supply vessel HMCS Protecteur caught fire and was damaged beyond repair.

“We are just now getting back to what we were used to three or four years ago,” Saltel said. “Certainly, having all the gas I could ever need just a mile or so away from me at all times is a weight off the shoulders.”

He said during Operation Projection, HMCS Calgary refuelled and replenished its stores from MV Asterix at sea at least 25 times and friendly navies did the same. At all times the MV Asterix crew, a military and civilian mix, performed well. “It wasn’t just me that was happy we had a tanker,” said Saltel. “This ability was well received by our partners. In terms of the capabilities of that ship, in terms of refuelling, we got really great reviews.”