The Navy has stopped most training and is ordering some ships at sea home earlier than planned as it prepares to deal with the new coronavirus, says a message from Canada’s top admiral.
The Navy will also restrict shore leave in foreign ports and try to practise social distancing on board ships, to the extent that that’s possible in the cramped conditions of a warship, Vice-Admiral Art McDonald wrote in a message to the fleet published Wednesday.
Some ships will remain at sea, while others will return to dockyards at Halifax and Esquimalt, B.C.:
- HMCS Nanaimo and HMCS Whitehorse, now on an anti-narcotics mission in the eastern Pacific and Caribbean, will return to Esquimalt in early April instead of May. The move is “aimed at limiting our sailors’ potential exposure to COVID-19 (and especially in light of ready accessibility to fulsome medical support,” McDonald wrote.
- HMCS Glace Bay and HMCS Shawinigan are returning to Halifax earlier than planned because international naval exercises they were part of off West Africa were cancelled.
- However, the frigate HMCS Fredericton, part of a NATO mission in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, will remain deployed.
- The crews of two other ships, HMCS Ville de Quebec and HMCS Moncton, have been confined to a hotel for 14 days to keep them away from potential infection.
“Only essential sailings (i.e. those related to critical national defence and security objectives) will be conducted,” McDonald wrote.
The goal is to protect both ships and sailors so they can respond to a coronavirus-related emergency, he explained.
“Shipmates, I know many of you are at home when what you want to be doing is contributing and helping to support ongoing missions such as these ones, but rest assured, preserving the force is one of our top priorities right now,” McDonald wrote.
Coronavirus has wreaked havoc on some U.S. warships in recent days.
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, now docked in Guam, has over 100 sailors sick with coronavirus, its captain said this week.
In a letter to his superiors, Capt. Brett Crozier said he didn’t have space on board to quarantine infected sailors properly, and asked to have them sent on shore. In a public statement, the U.S. Navy said there wasn’t space for them on shore in Guam, either.
In March, HMCS Regina returned to port in Esquimalt after a sailor learned that a family member might have been exposed to coronavirus.
Earlier in May, Gen. Jonathan Vance, Canada’s chief of defence says the military has shifted into what it calls a mode of “pre-pandemic planning” in order to prepare for a novel coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands worldwide.
This week, two Manitoba First Nations communities asked for a military hospital to be set up in their territory to help them deal with the coronavirus ,