VANCOUVER -- It happens every two years and is described as one of the largest multi-national maritime exercises in the world.

On Friday, the first of two Canadian warships set sail for Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2020.

HMCS Regina and her crew of 250 sailed past Duntze Head at CFB Esquimalt on their way to RIMPAC in the Hawaiian Islands.

HMCS Winnipeg will depart on Sunday with an equal amount of sailors and will join HMCS Regina for the two-week exercise with U.S. and Australian vessels that begins on Aug. 17 and runs until the 31st.

In order to address health and safety concerns posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Navy organizers have redesigned this year’s exercise to focus exclusively on the maritime element.

Canada has participated in every RIMPAC since 1971; this year is proving to be a bit different due to COVID-19.

“We’ve paid a lot of attention to preventative health measures; the ship has gone into a seven-day quarantine routine,” says Comm. Angus Topshee, Commander of Canadian Fleet Pacific. “Everyone was tested and we really appreciate the cooperation from B.C. health (officials) to facilitate the testing of every ship’s company. On Wednesday, all the tests came back negative and now we will continue to take preventative health measures for the first several days at sea.”

There will also be no shore leave for any of the crew during the RIMPAC exercises to prevent any transmission of the disease.

The challenges of the pandemic won’t stop Canada’s maritime task group from doing its job, says Capt. Scott Robinson, commander of the task group, from on board HMCS Regina.

“We are in a COVID-19 environment. Things have changed significantly, a lot of our processes have as well, but we still have to be able to demonstrate to the world and our allies that we’re still capable of generating ships and air crews to go off over the horizon and maintain our level of readiness and be prepared for any mission the government of Canada gives us.”

Both warships will be augmented by Cyclone helicopters from 443 Squadron, Victoria – It will be the first time the Cyclones have participated in RIMPAC.

“Canadians recognize our security and prosperity are increasingly affected by events across the Asia-Pacific. Our longstanding participation in RIMPAC reflects our commitment to developing constructive multilateral partnerships in order to promote peace and security in the region,” says Topshee.

Both HMCS Regina and Winnipeg will remain off the coast of Southern Vancouver Island until Aug. 7 before deploying to the Hawaiian Islands.