Minor warships head North for Op Nanook


Commanding Officer of HMCS Nanaimo LCdr Jeff Hopkins reviews an electronic map on board the ship’s bridge in preparation for Operation Nanook.

On Tuesday, HMCS Nanaimo and HMCS Saskatoon left the shelter of Esquimalt Harbour for six weeks of work in the ice laden waters of the Arctic.

The two ships will make the 3,500 mile journey to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories for the annual Operation Nanook, where they will conduct surveillance and presence activities in the area.

Operation Nanook is the Canadian Armed Force’s largest annual northern training and sovereignty activity, working alongside other government departments to establish a visible federal presence in our northern communities.

This year’s operation marks the first deployment north of the 60th parallel for a Pacific Fleet ship since HMCS Cedarwood in 1949.

“This particular Operation Nanook is special,” says Lieutenant-Commander Brad Henderson, Commanding Officer of Saskatoon.

“In the past, ships participating in Operation Nanook left from the East Coast, so this is the first time we are entering the Arctic from the West.”

The operation will help to prepare the stage for more extensive operations to be conducted in the future by Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships.

Training in the northern environment is anticipated to iron out logistical and operating challenges posed by remoteness and harsher environmental conditions in the North.

The exercise will also play a key role in establishing a federal presence in Canada’s northern communities, which LCdr Jeff Hopkins, Commanding Officer of Nanaimo, says is integral to supporting Canada’s Northern Strategy.

“But apart from that, we’ll be providing valuable operating time for our sailors in a more challenging environment,” says LCdr Hopkins.

Nanaimo’s crew will operate a towed side-scan sonar system, which will capture high definition images below the water. The device is used to efficiently create an image of large areas of the sea floor.

Once in the Arctic, Saskatoon will help recover hydrophone arrays left by scientists off Banks Island.

Saskatoon will use a Bottom Object Inspection Vehicle (BOIV) to recover the arrays, which has cameras and robotic arm capable of manipulating objects underwater.

LCdr Henderson’s ship will bring three divers from the Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) to operate the BOIV, which will also be used to conduct surveillance of underwater topography.

To prepare for Operation Nanook, the commanders of both ships familiarized themselves with the environmental conditions of the Arctic.

But they aren’t too worried – August up north is similar to a Victoria winter, with temperatures ranging from five to 10 degrees Celsius.

“There will be the least amount of ice when we’re up there,” says LCdr Henderson.

“The ice will lock up on the shoreline in October. But we’re still making sure we understand ice, how to operate in it, how to navigate through it, and the limitations that it can bring.”

In terms of supplying the ship with goods and fuel, LCdr Henderson says there’s isn’t a big difference fueling the ship and stocking it with food and provisions than any other deployment, and with the moderate weather conditions, all gear needed for the crew falls under the standard scale of issue.

“The one thing we do is try to take on more rations than we normally would to ensure we won’t have to rely on Northern supply chains,” says LCdr Hopkins.

Other factors each ship is keeping in mind are the distance from shore to ship in Tuktoyaktuk. Extensive shallows mean the closest the ships will get to port is 10 miles, making for long lines of transit.

“The novelty of the Arctic is huge, and getting to operate that far North is rare. As the first ships from the West Coast heading up in roughly 60 years, we’re looking forward to the challenge,” says LCdr Hopkins.

Rachel Lallouz
Staff Writer

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