Monday, January 18, 2010

Background: HMCS Athabaskan and Haitian Relief Efforts

The Canadian Forces ship HMCS Athabaskan (DDG 282) which was just deployed to Haiti is an Iroquois-class destroyer. Ships of this class are also referred to as the "Tribal class", a tradition which dates back to the Second World War when ships of an earlier Tribal class were obtained by the Royal Canadian Navy from Great Britain.

Athabaskan was built in Quebec in 1972, and went through TRUMP (TRibal-class Upgrade and Modernization Project) in 1994. The Iroquois-class Tribals supplemented the Canadian Navy's River-class destroyer force in the 70's and 80's. Militarily, the Iroquois-class were originally designed to conduct anti-submarine warfare, but the TRUMP conversion remade them into area air defence platforms.

The current Commanding Officer of Athabaskan is Commander Peter Crain, who relieved Commander Steve Jorgensen in command of the ship in August 2009.

The ship was one of four Canadian naval vessels that took part in Exercise Joint Warrior in September/October 2009. The others were HMCS Halifax (currently deployed with Athabaskan to Haiti), HMCS Montreal, and the supply ship HMCS Preserver.

In the photo (which is from Athabaskan's photo gallery on the ship's web page), Athabaskan is leading Halifax and Montreal through the waters of the Royal Navy's Fleet Base at Scapa Flow on the morning of October 14, 2009. This procession marked the 70th anniversary of the night in 1939 when the battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk by the German U-Boat U47 at what was supposed to be a secure anchorage.

In Haitian waters, Athabaskan will take station to the west of Port Au Prince, while Halifax will anchor off the town of Jacmel on the southern coast, about 30 kilometers away.

View Haiti - Canadian Relief Jan 2010 in a larger map

Michaelle Jean, the current Governor-General of Canada, is a Haitian refugee, having come to Canada at the age of 11 to escape the Duvalier regime. Jacmel, a town which is a popular tourist destination, is also the home town of Governor-General Michaelle Jean's father.

Peter McKay, the Minister of National Defense said through a spokesman that the Governor General had no hand in the decision to focus on Jacmel, which was made based "on the recommendation of the brigadier general on the ground", as well as at the request of the Haitian government.

Halifax is scheduled to arrive off Jacmel by Tuesday. There are an estimated 84,000 people homeless in the Jacmel region, and the hospital was destroyed. The dock has reportedly been damaged, which means that landings will be done via smaller craft. Earthquake damage to the road means that Jacmel has also been cut off from aid coming by truck. However, a DART complement is already working there, as well as a United Nations force from Sri Lanka.

This juxtaposition is entirely appropriate -- in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami of Christmas 2004, DART deployed to assist in Sri Lanka, although the logistics back then were much more difficult since the Canadian Forces did not have the Globemaster transport aircraft.

In addition to the Sri Lankans, the Canadian contingent are also working with search and rescue teams from Colombia and Brazil.

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evision said...
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