Asterix crew stood up as interim AOR conversion nears completion
By Ryan Melanson,
Only a few months remain until Davie Shipbuilding and its sister company Federal Fleet Services deliver the converted MV Asterix to Halifax to serve as the RCN’s interim AOR, and the sailors that will crew the ship alongside civilian mariners have received their postings and begun preparing for its arrival.
The unit is currently working out of a shore office in HMC Dockyard and have been in constant contact with the civilian stakeholders of the initiative known as Project Resolve, which has the goal of bridging the Navy’s replenishment-at-sea capability gap until the arrival of the Queenston-class Joint Support Ships in four to five years. Early training is currently taking place to have crews get compliant with DND standards as well as civilian standards required on the vessel, for things like firefighting, flood and damage control and first aid, and all parties are currently mapping out what the roles and responsibilities will be for the RCN personnel embarked. Much of the maintenance, damage control and repair work will be the responsibility of Federal Fleet Services and its civilian crew, while work dealing with CAF equipment or any flight operations will be CAF responsibility. The ship will remain privately owned and leased to the RCN throughout the five-year agreement.
This will be a unique working relationship, and one likely to bring challenges as the civilian mariners and RCN sailors come together, but LCdr Jason Walsh, the CO of Asterix, said he’s preparing his crew for a bit of a ‘culture shift’, and that he foresees a tight working relationship with the ship’s civilian master and civilian staff.
“We are the client on board, and the core crew, the civilian mariners, are there to provide a service to us. Once we’ve identified the majority of our operating limitations and who does what, we’re very confident the two groups can come together.”
Despite any of these challenges or the regular hiccups that will come with standing up any new crew and preparing to introduce a new capability, LCdr Walsh said he’s seeing high levels of enthusiasm in the shore office, which was stood up in April with a skeleton staff of 10 people and has expanded from there. The full number of crew members or ‘CAF Mission Specialists,” as they’ll be known on the civilian-owned ship, will be 67 once the Asterix is in service, in addition to the 36 civilian crew.
Career managers sought out sailors for the new unit who were healthy, fit, and ready to meet a challenge; many of them have experience on fueling ships, and others have recently spent time working with the Spanish or Chilean AORs.
“These people weren’t picked at random. They’re aware of the amount of work that’s going to go into bringing on this new capability, they’re all very excited to be part of that first crew and do that work of figuring it out,” LCdr Walsh said.
For CPO2 Todd Hodder, the Asterix Coxn, who has years of experience sailing in tanker ships and performing RAS, it will be exciting to see that capability in action once again, and more specifically, to see RCN sailors getting the chance to conduct it.
“One of the greatest things is that Bosns will be getting back to doing things they haven’t done in a number of years. Operating fueling rigs has been the heart and soul of that occupation for many years through the Protecteur class ships. Once they were paid off, that capability dropped back quite a bit,” he said.
“This is exciting for people in that trade, to get back to the business of running rigs.”
LCdr Walsh echoed that comment, stressing that restoring the Navy’s RAS capability, even with just one interim vessel, is hugely important. From the operational side, it will restore the ability to sail as a task group to sustain operations, and the Asterix will also be valuable as a force generation tool.
“We want to ensure these young Ordinary Seamen are getting the proper training and exposure for when the Joint Support Ships roll out,” he said.
The Asterix Command Team will soon be travelling to the Chantier Davie shipyard in Levi, Quebec to tour the nearly-completed ship and for tabletop meetings to explore different possible at-sea scenarios. The ship is then set to be delivered to Halifax in September, with acceptable trials to begin in October. Beyond that, LCdr Walsh couldn’t give specific details on sailing or deployment plans for the vessel, but he predicts the RCN will use it to its full potential during its five years of service to Canada.
“We expect a pretty high operational tempo,” he said, considering the vessel’s capability to refuel ships, to operate in the Arctic if accompanied by an icebreaker, and possibly to support humanitarian and relief missions.
The first official unveiling of the fully-converted Asterix, which Davie Shipbuilding is calling the first Resolve-Class AOR ship, will take place on July 20 at Chantier Davie’s Quebec shipyard, with media and the public invited to attend.