Canada cuts short naval deployment amid COVID-19 pandemic
HMCS Whitehorse, one of two maritime coastal defence vessels that deployed from CFB Esquimalt on Monday, Feb 10, 2020. (File photo)
VICTORIA -- Two warships from Canada's Pacific fleet are cutting short their operations in Central America and returning home early amid the global coronavirus pandemic.
Vancouver Island-based HMCS Nanaimo and HMCS Whitehorse are expected back at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt in early April.
The coastal defence vessels deployed in early February for what was to be the longest-ever deployment of their ship class from Canada's West Coast.
The vessels were assigned to Operation Caribbe, part of a wider U.S.-led multinational effort to suppress drug trafficking and organized crime in the eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea.
Approximately 80 service members are aboard the two vessels.
The deployment was scheduled to last three months.
Submarine, frigate deployments in question
This year was meant to signal the navy's return to submarine operations after a year-long hiatus for the fleet.
HMCS Victoria, one of four subs in the Canadian arsenal, began dive trials off Vancouver Island in February, in advance of a planned spring deployment.
On Friday, the Department of National Defence told CTV News there was "no change at this point in time" to planned submarine operations.
The Victoria's deployment is scheduled to be followed by that of another sub, HMCS Windsor, this summer. The Windsor is expected to test a new heavyweight torpedo system that’s slated for rollout across the fleet.
A National Defence spokesperson said Thursday the agency was working to provide further comment on any changes to operational timing.
Two Canadian frigates, one submarine and two coastal defence vessels are scheduled to participate in Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international marine warfare exercise, off Hawaii this summer.
A navy resupply ship, two Cyclone helicopters and two or three Aurora patrol planes are scheduled to accompany the naval force on the exercise.
No official cancellation of the exercise or of Canada's participation in it has been announced.
National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande says two frigates - HMCS Calgary and HMCS Regina - and coastal defence vessel HMCS Brandon have pushed ahead their scheduled sea-readiness preparations to respond to critical situations as needed.
Sailors on all three vessels will be screened by medical staff for COVID-19 symptoms and potential contacts with coronavirus patients before sailing, Lamirande said.
The frigates each carry a crew of approximately 225 sailors, and HMCS Brandon has an average crew size of 35 personnel.