Saskatoon, Yellowknife prep for Operation Caribbe

Lieutenant Commander Nadia Shields aboard HMCS Saskatoon during Operation Caribbe last spring. She is currently preparing her crew for this year’s deployment. Photo credit: Op Caribbe Imagery Technician, HMCS Saskatoon

Peter Mallett 
Staff Writer

HMCS Saskatoon and HMCS Yellowknife are set to renew Canada’s drug interdiction efforts in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

The Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDVs) and their crews of approximately 40 sailors each are readying to depart Esquimalt Harbour Feb. 21 for a three-month deployment on Operation Caribbe.

The multi-national, anti-drug-trafficking operation is in its 15th year. It will also involve a Royal Canadian Air Force CP140 maritime patrol aircraft, ships and planes of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), and USCG Law Enforcement Detachments that will sail with Saskatoon and Yellowknife.

Their combined efforts will also require co-operation, intelligence, and communication sharing with other partner nations as they patrol an enormous swath of territory off the coasts of Central and South America.

Meet the Commanding officers

LCdr Nadia Shields is once again at the helm of Saskatoon for the deployment after commanding the warship in last year’s mission.

She says the work of the two warships is to disrupt and deter the flow of illegal narcotics. With over 20 years’ experience in the navy, LCdr Shields is confident she and her crew will put a stop to the drug runners again this year.

“We have an amazing, dedicated, professional, and focussed team, and I have no doubt we will be successful because of them,” she says.

In Yellowknife’s captain’s chair will be LCdr James Brun, who is in his 17th year with the navy. This will be his fourth Operation Caribbe deployment.

Yellowknife will have a Puma LE Unmanned Aircraft System embarked. The hand-launched UAV will increase the ship’s ability to detect and inspect anything on or near the surface of the ocean within their area of operation.

Using all their surveillance capabilities, Saskatoon and Yellowknife will provide support to USCG Law Enforcement Detachment officers, who will lead the interception of suspicious vessels and then board and search them for illegal drugs.

Sounds certain enough, but there is also a large element of luck to it, says LCdr Shields.

“That’s because our area of operation is larger than the North American land mass itself and we are two HMC ships searching for small boats. It is a difficult mission but not impossible as we have proven before.”

Last year’s success

In April 2021, the MCDVs’ work made headlines when Saskatoon and HMCS Brandon participated in a $44-million drug bust that saw the seizure of 1,120 kilograms of cocaine. There were also four more seizures made by Saskatoon and the USCG.

LCdr Shields and her crew were reminded of the devastating impact of drug traffickers on a global scale. They recently received a heart-wrenching letter from a grieving mother in Saskatoon who lost her son to a drug overdose.

“She thanked us for being the first line of defence for Canadians and said she was hopeful our work will stop another parent from losing their child,” says LCdr Shields. “Getting responses like this is one of the reasons why we do this.”

At the Ready

From now until their deployment date, the two ships and their crews are focussing on mission specific readiness training in the waters near the base. 

Saskatoon has been preparing for this year’s mission from the moment last year’s ended, says LCdr Shields. Their time was spent applying their observations from 2021 and looking for ways to improve.

Before they boarded the ships, both crews completed their COVID-19 isolation period. It required three days isolation at home, two days of hotel room isolation, and then three days of wearing a mask while on board. Sailors were also required to complete three Rapid Antigen Detection Tests prior to boarding the ships.

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