Sub culture: Aboard a Canadian submarine prowling the Pacific
A rare look inside a Canadian submarine, HMCS Chicoutimi, on an active international mission
For the first time in 50 years, Canada has deployed a submarine across the Pacific.
The secretive mission of HMCS Chicoutimi was planned more than a year ago, and involves re-establishing naval relationships with Asian nations. But it also comes at a time of escalating tensions with North Korea, as the country continues to push its nuclear weapons development program and the U.S. considers a pre-emptive strike on the country.
As part of the international effort to enforce trade sanctions on North Korea, the Chicoutimi's mission in the region has included surveillance of vessels at sea, helping international partners monitor and enforce trade sanctions on North Korea.
The seven-month deployment marks what the Royal Canadian Navy hopes is a turning point in the troubled history of its submarine force, purchased used from the British government in the early 90s. Heralded at the time as a sweetheart deal, the subs faced numerous costly failures over the following years.
HMCS Chicoutimi itself suffered a flood while crossing the Atlantic in 2004 bound for Canada, and caught fire. One sailor was killed and the crippled sub had to be towed back to Scotland.
Today, the Canadian subs have been refurbished and are operating off both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
And in the Asia-Pacific region. CBC News had exclusive access to the largest, and longest, operation a Canadian sub has ever been involved in. Here's an inside look at what it's like aboard HMCS Chicoutimi as part of that mission unfolds.
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In Pictures: Aboard HMCS Chicoutimi
The sub is on a 200-day deployment in the Asia-Pacific region, the longest and farthest from home of any Canadian submarine mission to date.
"Because of the nature of what we do," Ouellet says, "we can't celebrate our successes publicly. Our stealth is something we need to guard, but we are operating much more than any Canadian thinks."
Despite their destructive potential, the torpedoes can make it easier to get to sleep. They're cool to the touch, and sailors lie next to them for some relief when the boat heats up in the warm Pacific waters.
On this deployment in the Pacific, water temperatures are routinely 25 C or higher — heating up the inside of the boat and challenging some of its onboard systems.
There is no room on the sub for privacy, and unlike other navies, Canada does not segregate its crews. Whiten sleeps in the same cramped space with the men in the crew.
"There are no real differences between sailing on a submarine as a woman or a man," she adds. "The living conditions are the same, the qualifications are the identical, the pay is identical."
Inside this small kitchen, the two cooks (one with a coveted Red Star certification) prepare impressive dishes for the entire crew. After a week at sea, the fresh food has been used and the cooks have to get creative with canned and frozen ingredients.
There are two showers — to conserve water, they are used only briefly and not every day.
Sanitary waste is jettisoned periodically into the water, but only if the vessel is far from any land and in deeper water.
The ultimate aim: Don't be seen, don't be heard, remain undetected always.
The sub's crew also watches for "patterns of life." That includes monitoring harbours to determine what vessels leave and when they return.
"Whatever ship or object we're observing, they're unaware of the fact that we're there. And that is a huge bonus, because then they're not going to stop what they're doing," says Lt. David Hendry, the Chicoutimi's combat officer.
From the bridge in the conning tower, Oulette speaks with a French frigate the Chicoutimi had been tracking.
Other vessels or aircraft can then be sent to intercept, ensuring the sub remains unseen.
During its current deployment, the sub has visited Japan, Hawaii and the U.S. territory of Guam.
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Photos by David Common, CBC News