HMCS Protecteur is battling weather conditions as it is towed to Hawaii following last Thursday's engine-room fire, which disabled the navy supply ship based out of Esquimalt, B.C.

On Monday evening, the vessel was approximately 407 kilometres northeast of Pearl Harbor, travelling at nine km/h. 

Officials say the first people to arrive in Hawaii will be about 20 family members who were on board the Protecteur at the time of the fire. They are being brought back by the destroyer USS Michael Murphy and are expected to arrive around noon on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, it could be Wednesday before crew members on the Protecteur arrive in Hawaii, given that its speed does not change and weather co-operates. Navy officials are describing conditions on board as "austere."

Towing troubles

Over the weekend, the navy cruiser USS Chosin began towing the Canadian navy ship toward port in Hawaii. On Sunday, however, the tow line brokeThe tow line has now been reattached to the U.S. fleet ocean tug USNS Sioux and the Protecteur is expected in Hawaii by Wednesday.

HMCS Protecteur

HMCS Protecteur is under tow to Pearl Harbor after an engine fire left it stranded in the mid-Pacific. (Canadian Armed Forces)

Maritime Forces Pacific spokesman Lt.-Cmdr Desmond James said towing a navy ship in the open ocean is not a simple task.

"In the conditions out there, towing is a very, very challenging operation and it doesn't always go as smoothly, and that's why the navy practises this type of situation all the time," said James.

He said the navy is making sure family members are informed about all new developments.

"The families are well in the loop, so they are getting a daily briefing by senior staff from the military family resource centre."

A plan is still being worked out for what happens when the ship and crew arrive in Hawaii.

50-year-old ship to be retired in 2015

About 20 crew members suffered minor injuries — including dehydration, exhaustion and smoke inhalation — when fire broke out in the engine room Thursday around 10:20 p.m. PT. At the time, the Protecteur was returning from operational duties with about 300 people on board.

The Protecteur, launched in 1969, is one of two auxiliary oil replenishment ships in the Canadian navy. It left B.C. on Jan. 6 with HMCS Regina.

It was carrying 279 crew, about 20 family members, and two civilian contractors. The vessel was returning to B.C. from extended operations with the U.S. navy in the mid-Pacific.

National Defence said earlier that having family members on board for the final part of such a voyage is a common practice with navy ships returning from extended operations and exercises.

The military announced in October that the Protecteur and its sister supply ship on the East Coast, HMCS Preserver, will be retired in 2015.

Construction of new supply ships is expected to begin in late 2016, with a target of having them in service by 2019-20.

With files from The Canadian Press