MV Asterix makes naval history

Members of NRU Asterix man the rails of the ship prior to the ceremony welcoming MV Asterix to the Atlantic Fleet on March 6.
Photo: Mona Ghiz, MARLANT PA

Making naval history: MV Asterix officially welcomed to Canadian Fleet Atlantic

By Ryan Melanson,
Trident Staff

After saying goodbye to multiple vessels in recent years, the Royal Canadian Navy was able to welcome a new one to the fold on March 6, as the AOR ship MV Asterix formally joined Canadian Fleet Atlantic during a ceremony inside the ship’s hangar while alongside at HMC Dockyard.

The former commercial container vessel was stripped down and converted by Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec to meet the Navy’s supply ship needs in a 24-month process that was completed in late 2017. Asterix arrived in Halifax in December to begin early sea trials and conduct RAS tests with CANFLTLANT frigates. After completing those initial tests and achieving full operational capability with its mixed crew of RCN sailors and civilian mariners, the ship can formally be considered part of the fleet.

“I believe that we are making naval history today,” said LCdr Jason Walsh, the Commanding Officer of Naval Replenishment Unit Asterix, the unit that operates on board the ship alongside the civilian crew employed by Federal Fleet Services.

“In addition to the robust capabilities and tremendous support that Asterix brings to the fleet and to the Navy, the arrival of the ship also marks a new era of teamwork and cohesion between the RCN and the civilian mariners who’ll be essential to ensuring the smooth and efficient operations of this vessel,” LCdr Walsh said.

CEOs and other representatives from Davie and Federal Fleet Services were on hand for the welcoming, along with ADM(Mat) Director General Richard Steele and a number of MLAs and MPs, including Ontario MP Cheryl Gallant, Vice Chair of the Standing Parliamentary Committee on National Defence. For Navy representation, senior MARLANT leaders were joined by VAdm Ron Lloyd, Commander RCN, and RCN Chief Petty Officer CPO1 Michel Vigneault, along with Honorary Naval Captains Fred George and Tom Paddon. Ceremonial aspects of the day included the presentation of the ship’s bell and the breaking of the Canadian Forces Auxiliary Vessel Jack. CPO2 (Ret’d) Debbie Eisan, an elder with the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax, also provided smudging in the hangar at the onset of the event.

Federal Fleet Services CEO Spencer Fraser described the ship as being designed ‘by sailors, for sailors,’ with an extensive consultation process that brought in suggestions from hundreds of serving and retired CAF members. Much has been made of the amenities in Asterix compared to other warships, with dorm-room style accommodations, wi-fi throughout, private catering and full gym facilities designed by Goodlife Fitness. Fraser focused on the operational capabilities, however, specifically the ship’s four RAS stations designed by Toronto’s Hepburn Engineering.

“We wanted Asterix to be distinctly Canadian, and to set a new standard for this type of ship around the world,” Fraser said.

“On the operational front, Asterix has the best replenishment at sea equipment available anywhere in the world. We briefed NATO on this several months ago, and there was wide recognition that Canada is now leading the pack.”

The project involved years of teamwork between Davie, Federal Fleet Services, the RCN, DND and PSPC, and teamwork will remain critical to the success of Asterix through its five-year contract with the RCN, which has options to be extended up to 10 years or for the Government of Canada to eventually acquire the ship permanently. Maintaining a good working relationship between the roughly 45 CAF crewmembers and 30 civilian sailors on board at any given time will be a constant effort, said RAdm Craig Baines, Commander MARLANT and JTFA.

“But we’re already seeing that happening and learning some fantastic lessons along with Federal Fleet Services,” he added.

With the paying off of the former HMC Ships Protecteur in 2015 and Preserver in 2016, the Navy has been without a replenishment ship. Work with the Spanish Navy and other allies has helped preserve the capability for sailors through training, but the importance of the RCN having its own oiler can’t be understated, RAdm Baines said.

“It’s very important to be able to sustain the fleet when we’re operating, whether that’s domestically or internationally. Right now, for all the missions the Navy is conducting, the Asterix can support us.”

The ship isn’t equipped with any weaponry, and will rely on the supporting forces it sails alongside for defence. Should the RCN take on new missions in more dangerous areas, the situation will be re-examined to determine whether it’s appropriate for Asterix to deploy, he said.

Speaking to reporters following the ceremony, VAdm Lloyd said the new AOR will continue to sail with CANFLTLANT ships in the coming months, and as the summer nears, she’ll sail to meet up with West Coast ships HMCS Ottawa and Vancouver for a deployment to the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise off the coast of Hawaii. As the world’s largest maritime demonstration of sea power, RIMPAC is seen as a good venue to introduce Canada’s allies to its new ship.

“Training is absolutely essential to everything we do at sea. It’s important to be able to practice with your teammates, and RIMPAC provides an outstanding opportunity to do that with our American and Australian friends, the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Forces, and others,” VAdm Lloyd said.