HMCS Halifax to deploy Saturday as part of NATO support for Ukraine
Frigate will be 'fully ready to respond to anything,' says commanding officer
Canada will soon have two warships deployed overseas supporting NATO in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
On Saturday, HMCS Halifax will leave the East Coast to join allied ships in the Baltic region.
Last month, HMCS Montreal arrived in the Mediterranean region as part of a previously scheduled deployment.
HMCS Halifax was originally slated to sail to the Middle East in the next few weeks for a counterterrorism operation. But the frigate and crew will instead head to northern Europe, retasked by the federal government as part of Canada's larger military support package.
While NATO maintains a significant naval presence in the Mediterranean and Black seas, its member nations have also deployed ships farther north. Russia has two major naval bases on the Baltic Sea, with several NATO member states nearby.
"We're there to help defend if need be," said Cmdr. Dale St Croix, commanding officer of HMCS Halifax.
"Countries like Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, are all on the border of conflict right now."
He added that the Canadian ship will be "ready to respond to any spillover of tensions into those regions."
St Croix said his crew may also need to assist with humanitarian efforts.
"A lot of people, like [civilian] Russians, are moving through Finland and if they start to cross the Baltic Sea, there could be a need to provide security from a search and rescue perspective," he said.
"Even though the current conflict is Ukraine-Russia and it's in the Black Sea, it does have a tendency to cause concern and potential instability in neighbouring countries."
The Halifax-class frigates have been in service since the early 1990s. HMCS Halifax was the first ship of the class to be built.
Canada is finalizing plans for a fleet of new Canadian surface combatants, which would replace the aging frigates.
However, the current ships are still maintained on Canada's east and west coasts and are deployed on missions around the world.
"Even though there are lots of parts of the ship that are aging, we have a combat suite that's capable of reaching out and identifying, classifying and engaging air and surface contacts much farther away than most people would give the ship credit for," said St Croix.
He added that updated radar systems have just been tested and fine-tuned to be ready for whatever the crew may encounter.
"So I have every confidence that the combat suite, the engineering suite, communications suites, and the crew, are ready to carry out whatever mission the government assigns to us, or NATO assigns to us," he said.
Unknowns await crew
The deployment is supposed to last until July, but could be extended, said St Croix.
He said the crew has been preparing for whatever they may encounter overseas.
"There's always the chance that things may become more dangerous, and there's always the chance that diplomacy will prevail and it'll be less dangerous," St Croix said.
The crew and captain have been receiving support and well-wishes from Canadian politicians and residents in the month leading up to this deployment, including from MP Kody Blois, who represents the Nova Scotia riding of Kings-Hants.
On Wednesday, he tweeted about his recent tour of HMC Dockyard to learn about the navy's operations at home and abroad.
"The tour and time [with] our service members was an important reminder of the crucial role Canadian Forces members play in protecting our freedom," Blois wrote.
"We thank them for their service and sacrifice."
St Croix said as he looks ahead to Saturday, he's eager to live up to "the expectations that this country set for us."
"You know, going over there, waving the Canadian flag, showing how firm we are in our commitment to NATO, and being present to ensure that our allies remain safe in a world that's constantly evolving — and evolving even faster over the last few weeks," he said.