Ships deploy to the Arctic for Operation NANOOK

Pacific Region News / August 19, 2015

By Rachel Lallouz, Staff Writer

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Nanaimo and Saskatoon left the shelter of Esquimalt Harbour on August 14, 2015 to work in the ice‑laden waters of the Arctic for six weeks.

The two ships will make the 6,500‑km journey to Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories, where they will conduct surveillance and presence activities in the area for this year’s Operation NANOOK.

Operation NANOOK is the Canadian Armed Forces’ largest sovereignty operation in Canada's North, working alongside other government departments to establish a visible federal presence in our northern communities.

This year’s operation marks the first deployment north of the 60th parallel for a Pacific fleet ship since HMCS Cedarwood in 1949.

“This particular Operation NANOOK is special,” says Lieutenant‑Commander Brad Henderson, Commanding Officer of HMCS Saskatoon. “In the past, ships participating in Operation NANOOK left from the East Coast, so this is the first time we are entering the Arctic from the west.”

This operation will help prepare the stage for more extensive operations to be conducted in the future by Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships. Training in the northern environment is anticipated to iron out logistical and operating challenges posed by remoteness and harsher environmental conditions in the North.

The exercise will also play a key role in establishing a federal presence in Canada’s northern communities, which LCdr Jeff Hopkins, Commanding Officer of HMCS Nanaimo, says is integral to supporting Canada’s Northern Strategy.

“But apart from that, we’ll be providing valuable operating time for our sailors in a more challenging environment,” says LCdr Hopkins.

Crew aboard HMCS Nanaimo will operate a towed side-scan sonar system that will capture high definition images below the water. The device is used efficiently to create an image of large areas of the sea floor.

Once in the Arctic, HMCS Saskatoon will help recover hydrophone arrays left by scientists off Banks Island. The ship will use a Bottom Object Inspection Vehicle (BOIV) to recover the arrays, which has cameras and a robotic arm capable of manipulating objects under water.

LCdr Henderson’s ship will bring three divers from Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) to operate the BOIV that will also be used to conduct surveillance of underwater topography.

To prepare for Operation NANOOK, the commanders of both ships are familiarizing themselves with the environmental conditions of the Arctic. But they aren’t too worried – August up north is similar to winter in Victoria, with temperatures ranging from five to 10 degrees Celsius.

“There will be the least amount of ice when we’re up there,” says LCdr Henderson. “The ice will lock up on the shoreline in October. But we’re still making sure we understand ice, how to operate in it, how to navigate through it, and the limitations that it can bring.”

In terms of supplying the ship with goods and fuel, LCdr Henderson says there’s isn’t a big difference fueling the ship and stocking it with food and provisions than any other deployment; and, with the moderate weather conditions, all gear needed for the crew falls under the standard scale of issue.

“The one thing we do is try to take on more rations than we normally would to ensure we won’t have to rely on northern supply chains,” says LCdr Hopkins.

Other factors each commander is keeping in mind include the distance from ship to shore in Tuktoyaktuk. Extensive shallows mean the closest the ships will get to port is approximately 18.5 km, making for long lines of transit.

“The novelty of the Arctic is huge, and getting to operate that far north is rare. As the first ships from the West Coast heading up in roughly 60 years, we’re looking forward to the challenge,” says LCdr Hopkins.