To move and float: The ingenuity of HMCS Winnipeg’s MSE department

S1 Sheldon Hawley conducts maintenance on valves in the Forward Auxiliary Machine Room.

S1 Sheldon Hawley conducts maintenance on valves in the Forward Auxiliary Machine Room.

Captain Chelsea Dubeau
HMCS Winnipeg

It’s a Sunday morning in HMCS Winnipeg, one of the best days of the week.

The ship is in transit, deployed on Operation Projection, and best of all there will be ice cream later.

“Marine Systems Engineering Officer speaking,” starts the pipe. “For the information of the ship’s company, showers remain out of bounds. Mini-laundry also remains out of bounds.”

The problem is with the ship’s water-making capability, the Shipboard Reverse Osmosis Desalinator (SROD) system. In fact, both the port and starboard side SRODs are out of commission.

You can almost feel the collective groan of the ship’s company as the day suddenly takes a sour turn. Showers have been out of bounds for over 24 hours and people are refraining from working out for obvious reasons. Signs have been posted throughout the ship and water usage is to be kept minimal.

The Marine Systems Engineering (MSE) department on board has their work cut out for them.  They deal with a variety of systems that sailors often don’t think about unless it breaks – such as the water-making system. They also deal with propulsion, domestics (such as sinks), and power generation.

Since this is the Royal Canadian Navy’s first deployment to the Asia Pacific region in the COVID-19 environment, planning, including what to bring such as spare pieces of equipment, could only go so far.

Normally, ships at sea are assisted by Forward Logistics Services (FLS), a small team that goes port-to-port in advance of deployed ships and facilitates procurement of needed supplies, equipment, and parts. This is not the case for Winnipeg because of the pandemic that has created travel restrictions.

“The travel for the FLS team would have put those members at higher risk of contracting the virus,” says Lt(N) Craig Dalton, Logistics Officer on board Winnipeg. “The time between port visits would have been insufficient to allow proper self-isolation or quarantine time.” 

In fact, the entire supply chain has been negatively impacted by COVID-19. Supplies are harder to get and often take longer to arrive, something that is out of everyone’s control.

“We’ve had some pieces break down,” says Lt(N) Rowan Wilson, MSE Officer. “We can repair a host of things if we get the parts coming into us. There are many spares that we brought with us, but we’re finding in some cases it either wasn’t enough, or we don’t need them at all.”

So, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. For Winnipeg’s MSE department, this unique deployment has showcased their innovation and resourcefulness. 

“We have a great department,” says Lt(N) Wilson. “I’ll put that out there, straight up. I’ve got a lot of people who are really keen and really skilled. People who are willing to think outside of ‘we just have to replace it.’ People who are ready to machine replacements part from scratch.

He cites one example.

During Intermediate Multi-ship Readiness Training, a couple of members who are Red Seal welders repaired, for exercise purposes, an eight-inch diameter part of the fire main by welding different pieces around it into a circular form.

“That example is, I think, one of our biggest strengths and successes. We have the capability to make our own fixes, and I think that’s one of the most important takeaways of this trip, that we have the skills on board to fabricate stuff ourselves. We have that sustainability piece that is going to get us through future failures a lot better than ships that might not have that ability.”

So, with ingenuity they tackled the problem with the water-making capability. The original issue with the starboard side SROD was software related and easily fixed once the MSE team received the necessary files.

The port side SROD issue was found to be mechanical. A couple of weeks later, when the starboard side SROD began exhibiting the same symptoms as the port side had prior to its pump failure, the MSE team opened up the port unit pump in hopes of using it as a guide to assist in troubleshooting the starboard unit.

What they found was torn apart O-rings on the pistons and disintegrated plastic spacers, potentially contributing to the failure. After replacement and re-assembly on the port unit, the same fix was applied to the starboard side, and now both are running.

“This was a major team effort by the MSE department,” says Lt(N) Wilson. “The epitome of a field repair.”

Laundry and showers have been back in bounds ever since.


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  1. Peter Wilson says:

    Great job -Congratulations

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