Two Canadian warships returned to Esquimalt Harbour Saturday afternoon after colliding during manoeuvres while en route to Hawaii.
No one was hurt, but HMCS Algonquin, a destroyer, sustained significant damage to its port side hangar, while supply ship HMCS Protecteur was damaged on its bow.
The warships were a couple of hundred miles off the coast, southwest of Juan de Fuca Strait, when the incident occurred Friday morning, said Commodore Bob Auchterlonie, commander of the Canadian Fleet Pacific. They were conducting towing exercises at the time.
“Something obviously went terribly wrong and the ships made contact, causing damage,” he said. “We’re very fortunate and very lucky that no one was injured.”
The ships had just departed on a four-month Asia-Pacific deployment and were going to Hawaii before heading to the Royal Australian Navy’s International Fleet Review in Sydney.
While the full impact on the ships’ sailing schedules has yet to be determined, Algonquin will no longer deploy to Asia-Pacific as planned, Auchterlonie said. The navy regularly sends vessels to the region to build alliances and foster economic opportunities.
Auchterlonie called the damage “significant” but would not estimate the cost of repairs. The navy will conduct both a technical assessment and a damage assessment in the coming days.
“Based on that investigation, we’ll come up with a repair plan to get the ship back to sea,” Auchterlonie said.
A Royal Canadian Navy board of inquiry will also be convened to fully investigate the incident.
A towing exercise is typically conducted at a very slow pace, said Lt. Paul Pendergast, a public affairs officer. One ship would have cut its engine, simulating a vessel that had lost propulsion. The other would have then glided close to the ship’s side and in front of it, so tow ropes could be passed between the vessels.
The manoeuvre can be dangerous, said Petty Officer first class Corey Laing, who watched from the dock as Algonquin pulled into Esquimalt about 4:30 p.m., ribbons of torn metal on its port side.
The engineer has sailed several times on the destroyer and has participated in the towing exercise.
“Any time two boats are working that close, there’s inherent danger,” he said. “To see Algonquin like this is very sad.”
A number of factors, including weather, human error and equipment failure, could have played a role in the incident, said David Zimmerman, professor of military history at the University of Victoria.
Zimmerman does not think the collision will affect public opinion about the navy.
“There have been incidents in the past that have perhaps been considered to be humorous or made the military look foolish, but I don’t think this is going to be one of those circumstances,” he said.
Retired captain Kevin Carle, who spent 33 years in the service, said the incident is a sign it’s time to invest in new vessels.
“Our reputation is not supported in a situation like this very well, and we don’t have the flexibility to respond properly when the government wants us to,” he said.
“Right now, we’re so thin on the ground here.”
In April, another Canadian warship was significantly damaged when a U.S. fishing trawler crashed into HMCS Winnipeg while it was docked in Esquimalt Harbour. Six civilians from Victoria Shipyards who were working on the ship went to hospital with minor injuries.
This is a corrected version of a story that appeared earlier.
• Type: Iroquois Class destroyer — air-defence destroyer
• Length: 426 feet
• Width: 50 feet
• Aircraft: Two CH-124 Sea King helicopters
• Complement: 295 officers and crew
• Commissioned: Nov. 3, 1973
• Type: Supply ship
• Length: 564 feet
• Width: 76 feet
• Complement: 365 officers and crew
• Cargo capacity: Can carry enoughprovisions to supply a task force of six destroyers for six weeks
• Commissioned: Aug. 30, 1969
— Source: Royal Canadian Navy
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