Tuesday, October 6, 2015

HMCS Athabaskan Sidelined from NATO Exercise

This article was written by  DAVID PUGLIESE, OTTAWA CITIZEN

An aging Canadian warship, on its way to military exercises that are designed to send a strong message to Russia about the West’s resolve over the crisis in Ukraine, is now sidelined because of engine troubles.
Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship ATHABASKAN departs Canadian Forces Base Halifax Dockyard, Nova Scotia for Operation CARIBBE at on April 16, 2015. Photo: CF Combat Camera
One of the four engines on the 43-year-old HMCS Athabaskan stopped working, sending the destroyer to a port in England for about a week, sources told the Citizen.

Maintenance crews from Canada will be brought in to work on the ship.

Navy spokesman Lt.-Cmdr. Al Blondin confirmed Athabaskan is in port in the United Kingdom and that technicians will replace one of the destroyer’s four engines. The ship has two main engines and two cruise engines.

The ship could continue to operate safely with one of the cruise engines not functioning but the navy “determined the repairs will be made immediately to maintain the most economical modes of propulsion while ensuring optimal propulsion redundancy,” Blondin said.

“Once the necessary repairs to Athabaskan have been made, it will return to sea to participate in Exercise Trident Juncture.”

In June, Defence Minister Jason Kenney announced 1,600 Canadian military personnel, including up to five Canadian vessels, would take part in the major NATO exercise, which he said was meant to send a strong message to Russia over its actions in eastern Europe.

Kenney said the Canadian military’s participation in the exercise would ensure both NATO and Canada are well positioned to respond to any crisis.

Trident Juncture is now underway and will run until Nov. 6. HMCS Athabaskan was taking part in an earlier, related exercise when its engine malfunctioned.

Blondin acknowledged the destroyer is old but also pointed out that engine replacements are sometimes required, regardless of the class or age of ship.

HMCS Athabaskan, the flagship of Canada’s Atlantic fleet, was also sidelined earlier in the summer with cracks in its hull and various other engine issues, the Citizen reported in July.

Earlier this year, the ship broke down in Florida because of engine problems. It later broke down in the Caribbean, again because of engine issues.

HMCS Athabaskan sailors have contacted the Citizen to note a litany of problems, including limitations on fresh water on board the vessel. The ship has also been stripped of some of its radars and weapon systems, sailors say.

But the navy says it has confidence in the ship’s ability to continue to meet its duties. “It should be mentioned that HMCS Athabaskan’s role within the fleet has evolved over time,” said navy spokeswoman Lt. Linda Coleman. “During its service life, it has served as a platform capable of long-range anti-submarine warfare, area air defence, and enhanced command and control. Today, HMCS Athabaskan continues to fill a role that meets the current requirements of the fleet.”

The navy is trying to cope with a dwindling number of ships. The destroyers HMCS Algonquin and HMCS Iroquois were recently decommissioned. Iroquois was taken out of service after cracks were found in her hull. Another destroyer, HMCS Huron, was decommissioned, then sunk in 2007.

The navy had hoped to replace its four destroyers and 12 frigates with 15 new warships. The Conservative government approved the acquisition of “up to 15” new vessels.

But last week, Kenney said inflation and other factors could mean the navy would end up with only 11 ships.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau has promised that, if elected, he would put more money into naval shipbuilding to ensure the navy has enough ships. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has argued that is not necessary as his government launched a massive shipbuilding program.

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