NRU Asterix helps warships flex their naval might

Photo by SLt M.X. Déry

Photo by SLt M.X. Déry

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

Two naval officers who recently commanded Naval Replenishment Unit (NRU) Asterix say the oiler has become a vital part of Canadian naval operations.

The NRU is the military wing that oversees replenishment at sea (RAS) operations aboard Motor Vessel (MV) Asterix.

On Feb. 6, the commercially-owned auxiliary replenishment vessel left CFB Esquimalt with a crew of 45 military and 36 civilians in support of warships HMCS Ottawa and HMCS Regina.

Lieutenant Commander James Classen, who commanded RAS operations on board Asterix from Aug. 2 to Dec. 18, 2018, says from a military technology perspective there is nothing advanced or noteworthy about Asterix. It is not well-equipped for battles at sea like a warship. But that’s not its purpose, says LCdr Classen.

What Asterix does do is deliver the goods, thereby providing something vitally important to Canada’s naval fleet: endurance.

“It’s all about endurance, plain and simple, for warships,” said LCdr Classen, who is currently the officer in charge of HMCS Chicoutimi. “It’s fulfilling our requirement of replenishing our ships at sea. We are able to keep our warships out in our theatre of operations for extended periods and provide them with fuel, food and rations.”

For this most recent deployment, Asterix will operate in support of Regina, and Ottawa as the ships transit to Hawaii. From there, it will accompany Regina to the Indian Ocean in support of Operation Projection and Operation Artemis.

Project Resolve

MV Asterix is leased to the navy by private firm Federal Fleet Services as part of Project Resolve. The modern, German-built container ship had previously operated for five years by Capital Ship Management of Greece and was turned into a supply ship under a procurement contract with the Government of Canada. It was stripped down and converted by Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec to meet the navy’s supply needs.

The intent of the service contract is to fill the gap between the decommissioning of the Protecteur-Class replenishment vessels and the arrival of the next generation of oilers. The Joint Support Ship Project will see the delivery of two new Protecteur-Class auxiliary vessels; the first is expected to be launched in 2023.

Measuring Up

Measuring approximately 182m long with a displacement of 26,000 tons, Asterix can carry approximately 10,497 cubic metres of marine diesel and up to 1,332 m3 of aviation fuel. Moving that weighty cargo across the ocean requires some muscle. The main fixed propeller engine and retractable bow thruster aboard Asterix can push the vessel to a maximum speed of 20 knots (37 km/h) with a range of 10,000 nautical miles (19,000 km).

Although fitted with small arms weaponry, it is not intended to be put in a high-risk environment. The vessel is also designed to carry four Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats and two fast rescue craft. 

Fueling the Fleet

NRU’s main purpose is to conduct RAS operations at sea. Along with fuel stores, its two 30-tonne cargo cranes and a forklift are capable of moving and storing 38 sea containers in its hold and up to 800 pallets on its tween deck. Storage items can include small arms ammunition, hammerhead targets, spare parts for warships, food, and medical supplies.

NRU Asterix has a total of six rotating RAS teams, four based on Canada’s East Coast and two on the Pacific Coast that switch out approximately every four months.

Life Onboard

What is it like working and living aboard MV Asterix?

The vessel’s first Pacific Coast commander, Lieutenant Commander Meghan Lobb, took command of NRU Asterix from April to August 2018 and says sailing it is an entirely new experience for her and RCN members who never got a chance to sail aboard the Protecteur-class.

She says Asterix provides something different than most RCN vessels – interaction between military personnel and civilian staff members.

“It’s a large ship with a comparatively small crew, and with half the crew coming from a civilian maritime background, we have a lot to learn from each other.  From a military standpoint, we learn how a merchant ship runs, and the civilian mariners get a peek into some military operations.  It’s great to see the teams coming together as one to accomplish the mission.”

The amenities of Asterix provide much more in the way of comfort and privacy than most warships such as Wi-Fi throughout, private catering and full gym facilities designed by Goodlife Fitness.

The vessel also includes enhanced medical and dental capabilities. On the medical side, those include x-ray and ultrasound equipment, a five-bed hospital trauma bay and pharmacy. Asterix employs a physician assistant, medical technician and medical officer. Asterix’ staffing also includes a dentist and dental technician who work from a well-equipped dental office and lab.

LCdr Classen says the massive size of the Asterix and many private quarters can sometimes produce a sense of isolation. He likens life on the ship to that of a modern city, as after work hours most people retreat to their cabins and close their doors for the night. That privacy and lack of interaction is something he and other sailors are not accustomed too when sailing aboard a frigate or submarine.

It didn’t become an issue for too long during his time at the helm. Instead of staying isolated he and the rest of the crew held movie nights in the ship’s messes along with friendly competitions in ping pong and basketball in the vessel’s gym. 

“On a warship it’s all about the camaraderie and I think we were successful in recreating some of that,” he concluded.

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  2. Judy Hartley says:

    Great article and information. My grandson was deployed on Asterix from June to December 2018. Heis in the Navy and loved the experience and is looking forward to the next time he will be on her. Look forward to hearing more about Asterix s travels.

  3. noel says:

    we need another one right now

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