A Spanish navy supply ship has arrived in Halifax to provide at-sea replenishment for the Royal Canadian Navy on the East Coast, to fill the hole left last year when the last of the navy's supply vessels were taken out of service.
The SPS Patino — short for Spanish naval ship — was needed as a short-term "capability gap" measure because Canada's two supply ships are out of commission. HMCS Protecteur was retired last year and HMCS Preserver can't go to sea.
A temporary replacement will not be available until 2017, when a refitted commercial ship is expected from the Davie shipyard in Quebec.
"We're just going to have to ride through this period," said Rear Admiral John Newton on Friday as he welcomed SPS Patino, its crew and Capt. Gonzalo Villar Rodriguez to the dockyard at HMCS Halifax.
"What we're not going to do is lose the competency in this type of business."
Two crews of 28 Canadian sailors will serve on board SPS Patino, which will provide refuelling services, food supplies, provisions and spare parts delivery to Canadian and other NATO warships in the Atlantic for the next 40 days.
SPS Patino tied up next to HMCS Preserver on Friday morning, and Newton and other brass spoke briefly to reporters before being piped aboard the Spanish vessel.
We're paying the fuel bill
Patino is part of what the navy calls a "mutual logistics support arrangement" between Canada, Spain and Chile. A Chilean navy ship is serving a similar training and supply role for Canada in the Pacific.
The navy said Friday the cost is expected to be about $2.18 million.
SPS Patino and its crew of 152 have traded the Mediterranean and Bay of Biscay for the north Atlantic in the winter.
"We will be doing exactly the same things we will be doing in Europe, but in a more challenging environment at the other side of the Atlantic, which is an adventure in itself for us to cross in mid-February," said Rodriguez.
"We thank the Canadian navy for that opportunity."
Newton framed Patino's arrival as an act of assistance between longstanding NATO allies. He said alliance navies have had decades to learn "interoperability."
Supply shipless navy not a 'jam'
The rear admiral denied the Spanish are helping Canada out of a jam.
"There is no jam. What we lack in our navy right now is the independence to operate as a nation, as our own task group," Newton said.
"The inherent power of our navy is in a task group and its ability to protect itself, to be mobile, to operate on all the seas."
He said navies have always lent out supply ships — known as AORs or auxiliary oiler replenishment ships in navy jargon.
"You lose that sovereignty to do something nationally in distant waters," said Newton.
It will be another four years — at the earliest — before Canada gets a permanent supply ship from Seaspan ULC in North Vancouver. Seaspan was chosen to build replacement supply vessels as part of the $39 billion national shipbuilding procurement strategy announced by the previous Conservative government in 2011.