HMCS Halifax sets sail for six-month mission in Europe

·2 min read

Family and friends of the crew onboard HMCS Halifax had to watch the ship's departure ceremony on a live stream Friday, instead of packing the jetty for final hugs and good byes.

HMCS Halifax is heading to Europe to take part in NATO exercises under Operation Reassurance. It's the same mission HMCS Toronto was working on. The ship returned a month earlier than planned just days before Christmas.

This is just the second navy deployment to leave Halifax Harbour under the cloud of the pandemic, and officials say they had to do everything possible to ensure the crew was healthy before departing Friday afternoon.

"Typically we would see jetty full of people here wishing us fair winds and following seas," said Commodore Bradley Peats as he addressed the families watching on social media.

"While we cannot see you physically, know that you are in our thoughts and you are in our hearts."

Carolyn Ray/CBC
Carolyn Ray/CBC

After months of training under the unique circumstances, the crew spent the last few weeks isolating with their families, and undergoing multiple COVID-19 tests.

"It's a day of excitement mixed with anxiety," said Cmdr. Christopher Rochon.

"COVID challenged us to adjust our training, technical and personnel management in ways that we would have never imagined."

Now that they're on board, the 252 sailors will be isolated for six months, creating a bubble at sea. They'll also have access to rapid testing, so if anyone feels unwell, they'll be able to determine if COVID-19 somehow made its way on board.

"We will be taking all measures to remain safe and healthy while recognizing that this will place additional hardship on our crew."

No shore visits

Petty Officer 1st Class Joyce Farmer says this mission will have a much different feel than her previous deployments.

Their first destination is a stop in Portugal, but they won't be leaving the ship.

"When we come alongside into a foreign port, we don't get to go ashore any more," she said.

"We as a family, we will be able to keep ourselves entertained, we'll be able to work out, we'll have a lot more time to ourselves."

Carolyn Ray/CBC
Carolyn Ray/CBC

Instead of being on the jetty, families were encouraged to space themselves out along Halifax's boardwalk so they could watch the ship leave its home base.

"Departure day is often difficult, but what today marks is the countdown to leaving is finish, and the countdown to homecomings is beginning," said Peats.