Cmdr. Corey Gleason has an opportunity offered to only a handful of Canadians.

He has been appointed captain of HMCS Harry DeWolf — a first-of-its kind warship under construction at the Halifax Shipyard and expected to begin sea trials late next year.

Gleason spoke to CBC News about the Royal Canadian Navy's plan for the ship, following an event organized by the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia. 

AOPV ice

Artistic depiction of an Arctic and offshore patrol ship in icy waters. (Irving Shipbuilding)

Sharing the waters with cruises and cargo ships

HMCS Harry DeWolf's hull is designed to withstand icy conditions, similar to many Canadian Coast Guard ice breakers.

The reinforced bow and extra thrusters can push ice out of the way and safely break up some thinner sections, allowing it to patrol icy waters that currently force many other navy vessels to turn around.

The hope is the ship will be able to respond to incidents in a region getting busier every year.

"The cruise and shipping industries are becoming so significant up in the Arctic," Gleason said.

This month for example, a 1,000-passenger cruise ship called the Crystal Serenity is attempting to go through the Northwest Passage, a feat it accomplished last year.

"It's no secret," Gleason said. "The Arctic waters are opening and there is a significant amount of civilian traffic going north. And there will be more." 

Northwest Passage Serenity cruise route

Planned route for the Crystal Serenity through the Northwest Passage. (Ruby Buiza/CBC)

"If a cruise ship went out there and had an accident or ran aground, and they had to disembark all those folks to a hamlet, it would have a significant impact," Gleason said.

HMCS Harry DeWolf could be used to relieve the pressure off that small community, while assisting with the rescue and evacuation of the passengers.

Arctic (and) Offshore Patrol Vessel 

HMCS Harry DeWolf is the first of six arctic patrol ships that will be built at Irving Shipbuilding's Halifax facility at a cost to the federal government of $2.3 billion.

Gleason stressed the official name of this new class of ship: Arctic and Offshore Patrol Vessel.

"It can not only deploy in the Arctic," he said. "It can deploy anywhere in the world."

He said the hospital on board and a "sea lift" that can lower over the side vehicles and boats with personel on them means the ship is the "perfect platform" to bring to a humanitarian crisis.

He said the ship could also be used for intercepting drug smugglers in the Southern Hemisphere and missions overseas. 

Cyclones not preferred for Arctic duty

The new arctic and offshore patrol ships can support a variety of different helicopters on their decks. 

However, the new CH-148 Cyclone helicopters, which will replace the military's aging Sea Kings, are not the captain's top choice for northern missions.

hi-cyclone-helicopter

A Canadian military CH-148 Cyclone conducts test flights with HMCS Montreal in Halifax harbour on April 1, 2010. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"If I was operating in the Arctic and I required an aircraft to support me in ice surveillance and observations, a light helicopter that is surrounded with lots of windows (...) would be the preferred choice," Gleason said. 

"The Griffon helicopters would be a great support to that."

The CH-146 Griffon helicopters are much smaller and lighter than the long-awaited Cyclones.

But on missions elsewhere, the ship will likely be equipped with the new helicopter.

"Deploying further south, if we're doing (...) drug interdiction operations, the Cyclone helicopter has an incredible surveillance capability," he added.

On-board equipment 

The new ship will have space for a variety of vehicles, including smaller boats to deploy to shore or to carry boarding parties. 

There will also be space for ATVs, snowmobiles and pickup trucks, along with a crane to help load and unload the equipment.

The crane can also be used to load mobile laboratories onto the stern of the ship. The labs will be self-contained within shipping containers and could be used to study Canada's northern regions.

"The Arctic isn't well surveyed," said Gleason. "We'll be working with the Canadian Hydrographic Service to make the Arctic waters safe."