British Columbia

HMCS Calgary returning to CFB Esquimalt after weeks at sea to keep sailors safe from COVID-19

The commander of Canadian Fleet Pacific says no crew members have been ashore after public health measures began and it will be a challenge to adjust to the new normal on land.

Commander of Canadian Fleet Pacific says no crew members have been ashore after public health measures began

HMCS Calgary was scheduled to be deployed on an international mission in April but because of the pandemic has been kept in Canadian waters, with sailors remaining on board to keep them safe from the coronavirus. (HMCS Calgary/NCSM Calgary/Facebook)

With the HMCS Calgary expected to pull into its home port in Esquimalt, B.C., this week, the commander of Canadian Fleet Pacific says adjusting to life on land during the COVID-19 pandemic will be challenging for sailors who went to sea before public health measures came into effect.

Initially intended for a mission in Asian-Pacific waters, the frigate's deployment was cancelled because of the pandemic and the vessel has instead been at sea off the coast of Vancouver Island for almost seven weeks.

None of the sailors on the ship have touched land during that time to reduce the risk of bringing the virus that causes COVID-19 aboard.

"We haven't been far," said Commodore Angus Topshee in a phone interview on CBC's On The Island Tuesday.

HMCS Calgary is expected to return to CFB Esquimalt Friday after staying off the coast of Vancouver Island for more than a month. (HMCS Calgary/NCSM Calgary/Facebook)

The crew has been using the time for training exercises and ship maintenance. And even though they have stayed in domestic waters, they have been following protocols usually reserved for international waters because of the pandemic.

"We've adopted some of our support and logistics approach that we would normally only use in another country," said Topshee.

This includes delivering supplies by crane, or collecting them from jetties after the delivery service has left.

Topshee said this same measure will be taken in Esquimalt, too.

"In a lot of ways it's very abnormal to go into your home port and not go onto your jetty," said Topshee.

But that will just be the first sign of abnormality for the sailors. When they are off the base and back at home, it could be a hard adjustment to adhere to physical distancing, Topshee said.

"That is going to be very foreign to us because we sailed before any of that was in effect," he said.

No sailors have tested positive for COVID-19 in his fleet and, because they were isolated together for so long, they have not been practising physical distancing, the commodore said.

According to Topshee, the HMCS Calgary and other ships in the Pacific fleet, including HMCS Regina and HMCS Brandon, should arrive in Esquimalt on Friday.

With files from On The Island