Santa arrives for Christmas, along with HMCS Nanaimo

Santa Claus was the first person to hop off HMCS Nanaimo on its return to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt on Friday, stepping onto the jetty as the Naden Band played I’ll Be Home For Christmas.

Santa — played by Able Seaman Akira Yamagishi — was suitably beardless, keeping in line with naval rules on facial hair. He brought a sack filled with toys puchased by the crew and presented them to staff from the Esquimalt Military Family Resource Centre, who plan to pass them along to the Salvation Army.

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HMCS Nanaimo was returning from a three-month deployment in the eastern Pacific, off the coast of Mexico and Central America and almost as far south as the Galapagos. While there, the crew assisted the United States Coast Guard in seizing about 1,898 kilograms of cocaine and disrupting the passage of an estimated 750 kg of the drug.

The voyage was part of Operation CARIBBE, an international effort begun in 2006 to stop trafficking of illegal substances. It is led by the United States and involves 14 countries.

Among the crowd of people waiting to see friends and loved ones was Charlotte Farquharson, who had Horatio, 2 1/2, and Atticus, 1, in tow. They were looking forward to seeing dad, navy Lt. Justin Milley.

“They’re so excited,” Farquharson said. “They’ve been counting down, eating a chocolate kiss a day while Daddy was away.”

Michelle Howell and Hannah Harrison watched and waited, holding “Welcome Home Val” signs for their friend Val Leclair, a leading seaman.

Howell yelled and waved when she caught a glimpse of Leclair on deck.

“She’s heading to P.E.I. to see her family but we thought we’d welcome her,” Howell said. “We’ve missed her.”

Ashley Goodwin said she was very happy that boyfriend, Master Seaman Tony Adams, was coming back in plenty of time for Christmas.

“We knew we’d have them back, but we didn’t know how long we’d have them back before Christmas,” she said.

Goodwin said she figures Adams still has some presents to buy because of the time he’s spent at sea. “I guess we can’t blame them for last-minute shopping.”

She said Adams tends to be a last-minute shopper, anyway, while she tends to start around August.

Lt.-Cmdr. Shane Denneny, HMCS Nanaimo’s commanding officer, said he is proud of what his crew accomplished. The vessel arrived with a complement of 36, but there were as many as 47 aboard during the time away.

“It’s an extremely satisfying mission in the sense that there is the capture of illegal narcotics, which is just part of it,” he said. “The other piece of it is to recognize the strategic impact of Canada being down there, and how our participation is signalling our country’s intent to facilitate the rule of law in other places in the world and to reduce the influence of illicit trafficking — and those that use more nefarious means to accomplish their objectives.

“It’s really important that we understand that, even regardless of seizure, our presence and participation is extremely important to that aspect of the mission.”

Being home for Christmas means a lot to the crew, Denneny said.

“The season’s full of all types of fun and cheer and goodies, so it’s great to come home and be home at this time of year,” he said.

“We’re happy to be home, we’re happy to have sailed and done our job for the country and the people of Canada, and the safety and security of the hemisphere.”

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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