Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Halifax is back at its namesake home port but crew will have a slight delay before they can disembark the Navy frigate.
The Halifax-class warship had been scheduled to participate in Operation REASSURANCE in which the Royal Canadian Navy vessel and its crew worked alongside allies to maintain “security, stability and international cooperation efforts” in the region.
But yesterday, the Department of National Defence (DND) sent out a release announcing a crew member had tested positive following COVID-19 tests carried out as pre-arrival protocols.
“Of course we had a big plan to welcome the ship home and have families greet the ship after it got alongside and get everybody home,” says Rear-Admiral Brian Santarpia, Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic. “We had a bit of a curveball yesterday morning when we received news that one of the ship’s company had tested positive for COVID (so) we knew we needed to take some steps to keep everybody safe.”
While HMCS Halifax still arrived at HMC Dockyard at 9 a.m. on Monday as planned, the RCN cancelled all the ceremonial aspects of the homecoming. As well, families were not allowed to gather dockside to greet the arrival.
“We will test everybody on board with PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests and we’ll get those tests off to the province and they’ll do the analysis,” says Santarpia, noting he anticipates results to come back by end of day. “Depending on what the results are, we will figure out next steps.”
Santarpia notes that although COVID-19 vaccines are not mandatory, the Navy has a 96 per cent acceptance rate and all crew members aboard HMCS Halifax are fully vaccinated.
“As we all know, it’s still possible to contract COVID,” Santarpia says. “We just have to take the right steps when someone tests positive.”
Alongside the ship at HMC Dockyard, small groups of 10 to 20 will be removed from the ship under Maritime Forces Atlantic guidance for COVID-19 tests before reboarding until results are decided by the province.
“The good news is no one is symptomatic, everybody is healthy,” says Santarpia. “So even if someone has COVID, it’s just a matter of going through the protocols of how we isolate them and how we separate them from everybody else and make sure everybody else is safe to get them home as soon as possible.”
First commissioned into the RCN in 1992, Santarpia says the Halifax Class frigate had been returning from a six-month deployment as Flagship for the Standing NATO Maritime Group One, operating alongside an international staff consisting of members from such allied countries as Spain, Italy and Turkey.
“The ship’s done a great job. We’ve been doing Operation REASSURANCE now continuously since 2014,” Santarpia says. “They’ve been in various exercises with NATO partners throughout the whole six months, they’ve traveled all throughout Europe representing Canada and being a visible deterrent for NATO against any possible aggression by anybody and in terms of establishing NATO’s credibility and they’ve done a great job.”
Once crew members are cleared to depart HMCS Halifax, the frigate will remain docked in Halifax with the ship’s program resuming in the fall.
“(Crew members) have a few weeks here alongside at home with their families; it’s about six weeks before they get busy again,” says Santarpia, adding that HMCS Halifax is scheduled to participate in Exercise Cutlass Fury in the autumn. “That’s really our most important Force-generation activity this year and the ship will be the flagship for that.”