HMCS Fredericton returns to European waters for Op REASSURANCE deployment
By Ryan Melanson,
Much like other ship departures that have occurred in the COVID-19 pandemic era, there was little fanfare on July 24 as HMCS Fredericton prepared to slip Jetty NB and head out for a six-month deployment with Standing NATO Maritime Group 1.
The ship’s company was joined by a small group of colleagues and Maritime Forces Atlantic leadership, along with The Honourable Arthur J. LeBlanc, Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia, and Mrs. Patsy LeBlanc. The larger group of supporters, including friends and family members, settled for tuning in on Facebook live to see the ship off, rather than filling up the jetty for last-minute hugs and cheers as usual. “We’re still in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s still a tough time to go out and complete this type of mission,” said RAdm Brian Santarpia, Commander MARLANT and JTFA, prior to the ship sailing. He highlighted that the deployment will mark the 16th rotation since 2014 on Op REASSURANCE for the Royal Canadian Navy. The mission began as part of NATO’s response to Russian aggression and destabilization in Eastern Europe.
Fredericton most recently deployed to the same mission in early 2020, returning to homeport in Halifax last summer. The ship was struck by tragedy during that deployment, when its embarked CH-148 Cyclone helicopter crashed into the Ionian Sea, resulting in the loss of life of six crew members. While the event weighs heavily on the entire RCN and CAF community, RAdm Santarpia lauded last year’s Fredericton crew for their resiliency and successful completion of their mission, while expressing confidence that the ship’s new crew, under the leadership of Cdr Drew Graham, are ready for the task.
The crew of Fredericton was 100 percent switched out in the months following the ship’s return last year, and the Commanding Officer noted his current ship’s company has worked tirelessly through countless hours of training validations and other requirements to achieve the proper readiness level.
“It was an amazing feat to have this team come together and be completely ready in less than 12 months to go out the door for a major deployment,” Cdr Graham said.
The deployment will involve maintaining a maritime presence for NATO in the Baltic and North Sea, as well as improving interoperability with NATO allies.
Any major deployment of this type also offers huge benefits to sailors in progressing through their careers and becoming experts in their fields, RAdm Santarpia added.
“The ship comes back better. Those sailors come back full of experience and ready to take on the next part of their career. This is why we have an entirely new crew from last year; we want to share that experience around, to make sure we have even more sailors who can reach high knowledge levels and skill levels.”
Responding to questions concerning the recent positive COVID-19 cases aboard HMCS Halifax after returning home from Op REASSURANCE, RAdm said plans will not be changing for potential port visits during Fredericton’s deployment. It’s possible that sailors will go ashore while alongside in foreign countries, depending on things like local numbers of COVID-19 cases and local health restrictions, and any trips will involve testing the entire crew both before and after the port visit. All members of the ship’s company are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Once HMCS Fredericton arrives in the Baltic Sea region, it will assume duties as the flagship of SNMG1, which is currently led by Canada under the command of RCN Cmdre Bradley Peats.