A Canadian warship is heading home after helping provide humanitarian assistance in New Zealand following a powerful earthquake that killed two people.

HMCS Vancouver, which is based at CFB Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, was taking part in exercises in the south Pacific Ocean when the call for help went out following the magnitude 7.8 quake on Nov. 14. The quake toppled buildings and caused massive landslides that cut off road and rail links to parts of South Island. 

Rear Admiral John Newton, who commands the maritime component to warships on missions, says the ship diverted and helped plan the emergency response effort in the 24 hours it took to reach the town of Kaikoura, where hundreds of people were stranded. 

HMCS Vancouver's crew helped with the efforts to rescue more than 900 people. Newton says the sailors and air personnnel also distributed supplies, helped repair sewer lines and conducted structural assessments of buildings, particularly seniors' homes. 

"A warship has all the inherent skills of Canada's disaster relief, from water purification to breathing air quality," he said. 

Deployments planned

Newton, who spoke at the Halifax International Security forum, said the navy's three-year plan will see Canada's ships going as far as the Indian Ocean working on maritime security, establishing new supply hubs and supporting study of the environment.

"We have to have our ships more forward, more on stations in the deep ocean, working on partnerships, environmental learning, developing confidence measures with emergent nations," he said. 

Traditionally the navy has worked with NATO, but it has also expanded into the Caribbean and the Pacific, Newton said. HMCS Fredericton is now on its way to Cuba and will continue on to Cartagena, Colombia, and Veracruz, Mexico. 

"Today three Navy ships are in the Caribbean, not just on drug patrol…. to enable relationships, build confidence and build capacities with other navies," Newton said. "We want to go further. You'll see the Canadian Navy build on this idea to go into the Indo-Asia Pacific."

NEW ZEALAND EARTHQUAKE

An aerial view shows a landslide blocking the state highway 1 after the powerful earthquake near Kaikoura, on New Zealand's South Island. (David Alexander/EPA)

With files from Stephen Puddicombe