Protecteur pays off

HMCS protecteur pays off + Lookout Newspaper

“If our frigates and destroyers are our eyes, ears, and hands, then surely Protecteur was the heart of the fleet,” said Lieutenant Commander Blair Brown, the ship’s last commanding officer, to those witnessing Protecteur’s paying off last Thursday.

Behind him loomed the ship’s grey hull, sitting high in the water because it no longer carried fuel and cargo to replenish other warships.  

Commissioned on Aug. 30, 1969, Protecteur served for 46 years on both coasts as a replenishment oiler that kept Canadian and allied ships stocked with the necessary provisions to successfully complete combat operations.

“In her 46 years of service, Protecteur’s reach has far exceeded her grasp,” said LCdr Brown, the 33rd commanding officer of the ship.

“She’s served her community well.”

Before LCdr Brown were guests, a mix of former Protecteur sailors, dignitaries and civilians, sitting in neat rows, all gathered to mark the historic event.

Adding to the celebratory occasion was the music of the Naden Band of the Royal Canadian Navy. Hovering in the distance was a Sea King ready to give an aerial salute with a fly past.

Protecteur’s legacy is long and varied, full of colorful stories and heroic moments.

In 1982, the ship with Sea King embarked, and crew were responsible for the rescue of 28 Norwegian sailors from motor vessel Essi Silje, a chemical tanker whose port engine room had caught fire.

Protecteur was involved in combat missions during the first Gulf War in 1991 on Operation Desert Shield.

A year later it deployed to Florida as part of the relief effort after Hurricane Andrew.

Following a violent outburst in East Timor in 1999, Protecteur was deployed as part of the Australian-led peacekeeping task force.

In 2014, the navy decided to retire the veteran ship. But the end date was accelerated because of a crippling engine room fire off the coast of Hawaii Feb. 27, 2014. The crew battled the blaze for more than 11 hours.

At the podium, Commodore Bob Auchterlonie, Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific, spoke of that harrowing night.

“In the finest traditions of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the crew of Protecteur, alone in the high seas, in the dark of night, with no power battled a major main-space fire with inspirational leadership, unfailing courage and solid training.”

More than 10,000 sailors and aircrew have served on board Protecteur as it sailed more than 800,000 nautical miles over the course of its tenure as a RCN ship.  

“The ship and her ship’s companies have shown the same spirit, the same can-do attitude and mission focus, throughout her tremendous service in the Royal Canadian Navy for more than 45 years,” he said.

Following the speeches, the crew, lining one side of the ship high above the crowd, gave three last cheers then marched off the ship for the last time. As the Naden Band played Auld Lang Syne the  commissioning pennant, Jack and Ensign were hauled down, and the port flag hoisted.

This was a fitting tribute to a warship and its’ sailors who served with distinction for 46 years.

Rachel Lallouz
Staff Writer

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