By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch
The Canadian navy’s last research vessel will be decommissioned, leaving the country’s defence scientists without their own ship to conduct research in the Arctic and other locations, according to documents leaked to Postmedia.
The Canadian Forces Auxiliary Vessel Quest, an oceanographic research ship used by the navy and Defence Research and Development Canada, was sidelined in 2014 as a result of cost-cutting measures by the Conservative government.
But on Friday afternoon an internal Department of National Defence email announced that the ship was being decommissioned.
In the email Canadian Forces Base Halifax commander Capt. Chris Sutherland confirmed he had received a letter from the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Norman, about the fate of the ship.
“I am now able to share with you the decision from the VCDS that CFAV Quest will be divested,” Sutherland wrote.
A disposal plan for the ship will be developed but Sutherland’s message did not contain details on the timing of that process.
The ship has a 55-member civilian crew, which includes defence scientists.
John MacLennan, national president for the Union of National Defence Employees, said his organization has been trying for two years to get an answer from the Canadian military and the DND about the future of the ship.
“They’ve refused to tell us anything and then on a Friday afternoon, just before a long weekend, they spring this on their employees,” said MacLennan. “It’s par for the course on the way that DND treats its workers.”
The ship has conducted valuable research in the Arctic and in testing sonar and other specialized equipment, as well as contributing to NATO testing, said MacLennan, whose union represents some of the crew.
The ship was commissioned in 1969 but underwent an upgrade in 1999.
In a 2012 article in the Canadian Naval Review, Mark Tunnicliffe, a retired navy officer, noted the vessel has a mandate of not only contributing to acoustic systems development but an “entire range of technologies and concepts needed to support the requirement specifications for the next generation of Canadian warships.”
During a 2012 Arctic mission, for instance, the vessel supported testing for unmanned air, surface
and subsurface vehicles and an experimental Arctic surveillance system, Tunnicliffe wrote.
Sutherland said in his email message that he wants to meet next week with union representatives as well as hold a town hall with the crew of CFAV Quest. “We are committed to working with them and supporting them through this transition,” he wrote Friday. “My biggest concern is for the crew’s welfare, and I believe we need to work together to monitor the health of the workforce and ensure individuals receive the support that they need.”
MacLennan said Vice Admiral Norman was at meetings when he asked about the fate of the ship and how the military planned to do the research job in the future. At one point he was told by Norman’s staff that the Canadian researchers could install their equipment on board U.S. vessels.
“The navy procrastinated and then they mismanaged the situation,” said MacLennan. “I don’t think they have a plan B on how to fill this capability gap.”
MacLennan said for the last two years the crew has been taking care of the ship, painting it and doing other minor jobs.