08 March 2014

Canadian navy considers scrapping fire-damaged B.C.-based ship:

As HMCS Protecteur heads to Hawaii, officials ponder whether it's worthwhile to repair vessel

A fire-damaged navy supply ship could be headed for the scrap heap, leaving Canada with only one vessel to support its maritime force.

Since HMCS Protecteur is scheduled to be taken out of service sometime between 2016 and 2017, the navy is going to assess whether it's financially viable to repair the ship or simply dispose of it sooner, according to military sources. An engine room fire, which broke out last Thursday as Protecteur was sailing north of Hawaii, crippled the vessel. It is now being towed to Pearl Harbor.

An extensive damage assessment will start once Protecteur arrives in Hawaii, according to the Royal Canadian Navy. But there are already indications that the damage is extensive. "There are reports of significant fire and heat damage to the ship's engine room and considerable heat and smoke damage in surrounding compartments," the navy noted in a statement.

Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said the navy is facing some hard choices. "Even if Protecteur can be repaired, the navy is going to have to figure out if it should go ahead and do that for a ship they were going to retire in two or three years anyways," said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at Toronto's York University.

Canadian Forces spokesman Capt. Trevor Reid said the navy has been planning for the retirement of the Protecteur and its sister ship, Preserver, in the 2016-17 period. "However, a full assessment of the damage sustained by HMCS Protecteur is required before further commenting on its future," he stated in an email Tuesday.

Shadwick said the navy will also face a problem finding spare parts so it can repair the 44-year-old Protecteur.

Many of the systems on the ship are nearly obsolete, according to naval officers.

HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver use boilers to generate steam for their main propulsion. Spare parts are no longer readily available, and the skills needed to maintain such systems, already mature in the 1960s, are becoming increasingly rare.

In October, the federal government confirmed the two Joint Support Ships that are to be built to replace Protecteur and Preserver won't be ready until 2019-20.

That will create a two-to-three year gap in which the Royal Canadian Navy will not have access to its own vessels capable of resupplying warships at sea. The navy hopes to rely on its allies to fill that role.

When the fire was reported, HMCS Protecteur was returning from duties in the Pacific Ocean with 279 crew, 17 family members and two civilian contractors who joined the ship for the return transit. Having family members on board for the last part of a voyage is a common practice with ships returning from extended operations, the navy noted.

A U.S. helicopter transferred those family members off the vessel and on to the USS Michael Murphy. They arrived in Pearl Harbor on Tuesday.

Among those were retired vice-admiral Larry Murray, a former acting chief of the defence staff, the navy confirmed. He later served as deputy minister at Veterans Affairs before moving on to become deputy minister at Fisheries and Oceans until his retirement from the public sector. Murray's son is an officer on HMCS Protecteur.

Around 20 personnel on board the ship received minor injuries as a result of the fire. An investigation into the cause of the blaze is underway.

The fire is the second incident involving the supply ship in the last year. In August, HMCS Protecteur was involved in a collision with HMCS Algonquin during towing exercises en route to Hawaii.

There were no injuries but both ships were damaged in that incident.

Source: vancouver sun. 5 March 2014

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