HMCS Saskatoon makes historic stop in Manta, Ecuador

HMCS Saskatoon

Madam Sylvie Bédard, Canada’s Ambassador to Ecuador, is joined by female sailors from HMCS Saskatoon on the ship’s fo’c’sle during a women and leadership event in Manta, Ecuador. Photo by Captain Jamie Blois

Captain Jamie Blois 
HMC Saskatoon Public Affairs

HMCS Saskatoon arrived in Manta, Ecuador, on April 18, marking the first time a Royal Canadian Navy ship has made this visit.

The port visit was the fourth stop in the ship’s journey during Operation Caribbe and was a much anticipated reprieve for the crew after having spent a stretch of 19 days at sea.

Manta’s port is the second largest in Ecuador after Guayaquil, which is further south.

Beyond the necessity of resupply and reprieve for the sailors aboard Saskatoon, the ship was drawn to Manta because of an incident that took place a year earlier.

April 24, 2021

Saskatoon was patrolling the Eastern Pacific during their deployment on Operation Caribbe. The day was as normal as can be on operation, just as it had been the 73 previous days.

But on this day, the normality was broken when the ship’s Chief Engineer suddenly found himself with chest pain.

After evaluation by the Physician’s Assistant, it was determined that Petty Officer First Class (PO1) Kerry Wiggins was facing a cardiac event and needed more medical attention than what the ship could provide.

Based on the location of the ship, the closest appropriate medical centre was in Ecuador.

It was a race against time, and the journey from ship to hospital was not a straight forward one.

The first step was to transfer him to a ship with helicopter lift capability, along with a fellow sailor to serve as escort for administrative and moral support, and the Physician’s Assistant.

Saskatoon, at full speed, headed towards the nearest U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, which was USCGC Tahoma. They adjusted their course to meet Saskatoon. Once the two ships were near each other, the three members were transferred via Saskatoons Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat.

Once embarked on board Tahoma, both Coast Guard Cutter and Saskatoon sped towards Ecuador.

When the Tahoma was in range of land, PO1 Wiggins and his escorts were loaded on to a MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and flown ashore. On land in Guayaquil, boarded an Ecuadorian Navy fixed wing aircraft that flew them to Manta, Ecuador.

Surgery was promptly provided at the hospital in Manta to stabilize PO1 Wiggins’ condition. The week that followed saw him undergo one more surgery prior to a Canadian Armed Forces CC-150 Polaris aircraft bringing him and his escort home on May 1, 2021.

Thanks to the quick actions of the ship’s Physician’s Assistant, Saskatoon’s Command Team, USCGC Tahoma, and the Ecuadorian Navy, the now Chief Petty Officer Second Class Wiggins continues to live a normal healthy life a year later.

“This experience was not how I expected to return from deployment,” says CPO2 Wiggins. “The Physician’s Assistant and casualty clearing team care were outstanding. My training as a first responder, when I was a volunteer in a fire department, helped me understand what was happening. The ship’s staff support to evacuate me, and the support to my family back home, were greatly appreciated. The sweep deck of HMCS Saskatoon was full of the ship’s crew to see me off. The staff in the hospital in Ecuador were first-rate professionals. During my time in the hospital, the Commander Canadian Royal Navy took the time to call me to see how I was doing. The Medical Crew Commander and flight crew provided excellent care on the flight home. Commander Coastal Forces and the Base Surgeon met with me and my family when I returned to Victoria. We cannot forget my escort who, from the time I left the ship ensured I had what was needed, and kept the crew of HMCS Saskatoon and my wife informed of my progress while in the hospital. Once again, my family and I wish to thank everyone involved for my safe return.”

In remembrance of this event, Saskatoon’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Commander Nadia Shields met with the Ecuadorian Navy members who participated in CPO2 Wiggins’ rescue at their home port of Manta, Ecuador, on April 19 to thank them appropriately.

Those in attendance were Madam Sylvie Bédard, Canada’s Ambassador to Ecuador; Basil Haylock, Canada’s Honourary Consul in Guayaquil; Colonel Marc Délisle, Canada’s Defence Attacheé to Colombia; Capitán de corbeta Patricio Estupiñan, Acting Port Captain; and Teniente de fregatas Zadak Ortiz and Tano Arroyo, the Naval Aviators who flew CPO2 Wiggins on that fateful day.

Promoting Women and Leadership

A significant aspect of Canada’s bilateral relationship with Ecuador is based on cooperation to promote gender equality and equal opportunities for all. While Canada and Ecuador continue to collaborate in fora such as the International Roundtable on Gender Cooperation, which is chaired by Canadian Ambassador Bédard, both countries continue to look for opportunities to strengthen gender equality in areas such as security and military service.

Ecuador has a similar history to Canada with regards to female military service. In the pre-2008 years, when Ecuador maintained conscription, some females were brought into the military to staff specialist trades only.

In 2012, the door opened for women to serve in all military branches, but that didn’t mean females flocked in to this male dominated organization. Currently, the Ecuadorian military is
comprised of about 40,000 personnel, of which about three per cent are female. The lack of representation of long-serving females in most branches has led to deficiency of role models for those pursuing military careers in Ecuador.

Arrangements were made by Ambassador Bédard for a meet and great between female sailors of the Ecuadorian Navy and female sailors from HMCS Saskatoon, including the Commanding Officer, LCdr Shields.

Along with Ambassador Bédard and Saskatoon sailors were Teniente de navíos Fernanda López and Angelica Jaramillo, Alferez de fragata Mayra Solano, and Cabo primero Yasmin Yela Casierra to discuss the challenges facing women in their respective navies.

“I came back from Manta inspired by LCdr Shields and the Ecuadorian women officers from the Ecuadorian Navy,” says Ambassador Bédard. “Reaching gender balance in all sectors, including in our armed forces, is key for the development of democratic, peaceful, and innovative societies.”

Crossing the Equator

On the way to the port in Manta, the ship’s company observed a naval ritual rooted in deep tradition, a Crossing the Line ceremony.

Where exactly the ceremony originated is up for debate, but the event signals a major accomplishment in a sailor’s career, where they transit a geographically significant point of the Earth. In this case, Saskatoon crossed the equator near Ecuador in order to reach its port in Manta.

The Crossing the Line ceremony comes with much theatrics and shenanigans. Those who have not sailed across the equator before are termed ‘tadpoles’. During this ceremony, the tadpoles became ‘shellbacks’ or sailors who have crossed the equator. Those previously made shellbacks were responsible for providing the experience to the tadpoles just as they had received when they were tadpoles.

Starting with the night before the ceremony, tadpoles were given the opportunity to revolt against the upcoming appearance of King Neptune and his court, where tadpoles are tried and deemed worthy of becoming a shellback.

The court itself was colourful and each participant created a costume to bring to life the character they played. Some of the court’s representatives that appeared were King Neptune, Her Royal Highness Amphitrite, First Assistant Davy Jones, the Royal Baby, the Royal Herald, a Royal Barber, the Royal Judge, a Royal Scribe, Neptune’s Bodyguards, and Bears.

It’s not just the sailors who got recognized for this milestone. The ship also got fresh paint on its bullring. The colour was based on the crossing it had just undertaken. In Saskatoon’s case, the bullring got a fresh coat of red paint, painted by the youngest sailor and youngest officer. Ships can display this honour for a full year before painting it black again.

HMCS Saskatoon

HMCS Saskatoon as seen docked at Manta, Ecuador on April 18, 2022.

Filed Under: Top Stories

About the Author:

RSSComments (0)

Trackback URL

Comments are closed.