MV Asterix, Canada’s civilian-military answer to keeping the navy supplied on long deployments, arrived in Victoria on Tuesday after completing a five-month mission, the ship’s first.
Asterix, a converted tanker, is at Ogden Point and will remain in Victoria for repairs for one month before deploying to Asia Pacific waters again.
“It’s been going non-stop, 24-7 serving the Royal Canadian Navy,” said civilian ship Capt. Bernard Wentzell. “Personally, I can’t see how the navy ever managed without a [supply ship].”
Asterix and frigate HMCS Calgary both arrived in Victoria after a five-month mission to the Asia Pacific called Operation Projection; Calgary sailed into CFB Esquimalt.
During the operation, Calgary, supported and kept in fuel by Asterix, conducted exercises with navies from other Pacific countries including the U.S, South Korea, Australia and Japan.
Asterix and Calgary sailed in the heavily militarized waters of the South China Sea shadowed by a Chinese navy vessel the whole time. They also worked to enforce UN resolutions against North Korea, a first for the Royal Canadian Navy.
During the deployment Asterix refuelled Calgary and vessels from allied navies a total of 138 times. During its mission it had to replenish its own supply of fuel reserves in port three times.
The construction of Asterix was completed in January at Davie Shipyards in Quebec. It’s meant as an interim replacement while two supply vessels are built at Seaspan Shipyards in B.C. with a completion target of 2023.
Canada has been without navy supply vessels since 2015. HMCS Protecteur caught fire in 2014 and HMCS Preserver was paid off the following year because of advanced age.
The loss was a serious blow to the Royal Canadian Navy’s abilities to operate independently in global waters. Ships were forced to refuel in foreign ports or from friendly foreign navies.
“The frigates are quite limited in their endurance at sea,” said Wentzell. “Without a supply vessel they are very limited in their patrol area and their time at sea.”
Asterix is owned by the private-sector company, Federal Fleet Services, and leased to the Canadian government.
The ship is crewed by 36 civilian sailors and about the same number of Royal Canadian Navy sailors. The ship’s captain is a civilian but ultimate command and direction of the vessel falls to a naval officer.
It can carry enough fuel to fill the tanks of a Canadian frigate about 40 times. It also has a military hospital, the capacity to produce fresh water and storage, holds large enough to keep itself and a frigate supplied with food and other essentials for a full year.
Asterix has a Transport Canada-certified helicopter pad at the stern large enough to accept a twin-engine Chinook helicopter. It has a hangar capable of storing two Cyclone helicopters, the single-engine aircraft now being delivered to the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Spencer Fraser, president of Federal Fleet Services, and Naresh Raghubeer, strategic adviser for Davie Shipbuilding, were both on board Asterix on Tuesday singing praises of the vessel and making a case for Canada to purchase another one, giving the navy a supply vessel on both the West Coast and East Coast.
The two men said Davie could build another vessel just like Asterix and complete it in two years for $659 million, a quarter of the cost of a new naval supply vessel.
Fraser said the combination of civilian and military crew and the leasing arrangement is economical and flexible.
He said the American navy and the British navy have deployed with civilian support workers for decades.
“We are adaptable and we can do whatever is required to keep the navy happy,” Fraser said. “This ship [Asterix] has all the amenities and capabilities you will find in any naval supply ship.”
“Having a tanker supply vessel such as [Asterix] enables the Canadian navy to once again be an effective instrument of the federal government to forward deploy, conduct diplomacy and maintain a presence all over the world,” he said.