During a short deployment of just 53 days on Operation CARIBBE, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Saskatoon was able to seize or disrupt thousands of kilograms of cocaine and conduct port visits in four countries.
The ship and her crew set sail from Canada on Feb. 20 for Operation CARIBBE, Canada’s contribution to the multinational campaign against transnational criminal organizations in the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
It takes months of planning and preparation for the crew, which consists of 60 per cent reserve members from across the country, to come together as a coherent unit.
However, HMCS Saskatoon Commander LCmdr. Todd Bacon was well equipped with the dynamics of the operation, having deployed with HMCS Saskatoon on Operation CARIBBE just last year.
As part of this training, HMCS Saskatoon made a stop in Mexico on their way to Operation CARIBBE to conduct an exercise with the Mexican Navy and the United States Coast Guard (USCG).
It was not long after taking up their post on Operation CARIBBE, thanks to the months of preparation, that the crew was able to reap its rewards when, on March 12 and April 6, HMCS Saskatoon seized a total of 1,124 kg of cocaine.
Then again on April 13 and April 14, working alongside the USCG and an embedded Law Enforcement Detachment, HMCS Saskatoon disrupted an estimated 1,500 kg of cocaine.
“Our sailors worked seamlessly alongside the United States Coast Guard throughout this deployment, aiding in the interdiction of hundreds of kilograms of illicit drugs. Our success is a testament to the hard work, dedication and professionalism of these sailors,” said Bacon.
During their deployment, the ship and her crew also had the opportunity to visit several countries including Guatemala and Panama.
In Guatemala, HMCS Saskatoon hosted the Canadian ambassador to Guatemala and later were taken on a tour of the port facilities.
The ship also held a reception during its visit to Panama.
Of course, not every day at sea is a flurry of excitement, and the crew members must find ways to keep busy and enjoy their down time.
“When you’re in closed quarters for that duration you need to temper it with hey if this person is having a bad day, you let them have a bad day, and you’re there to offer support as well,” said Petty Officer First Class, Joseph Dagenais, Coxswain HMCS Saskatoon.
Dagenais, the senior most non-commissioned member on board, acts as a support worker and the crew feels safe to visit his office and vent.
In the mornings, Dagenais, did a “Tim Hortons like” run by delivering to all members on watch freshly baked muffins.
It’s little things like this that the command team does to make the crew feel at home.
“On this ship, this command team has little particular things we do to bring a little piece of home back,” noted Bacon.
The command team of HMCS Saskatoon made sure to carry its naval traditions out to sea including Thursday steak nights.
The ship is also setup to include an outdoor recreation area on the deck for the crew to enjoy and relax.
“It gives them some upper deck space that they can get outside on the ship and enjoy the rays of sunshine that, of course, are down in that region,” commented Bacon.
After accomplishing a plethora of tasks, HMCS Saskatoon returned to its home base of Esquimalt, BC on April 28. Overall, the command team of HMCS Saskatoon believes the mission was a success.
“We’re extremely proud that every time we can go out the door we can build a team and proceed out to the sea and be proud of our accomplishments and, of course, represent Canada to the best of our abilities and see that Canadians are proud of the work we do on their behalf, specifically with this mission on the Central American and South American continent,” said Bacon.