PHOTO GALLERY: West Coast sailors practise search, rescue operations off Peninsula

Exercise Pacific Guardian shows HMCS Saskatoon's skill

HMCS Saskatoon takes part in training for exercise Pacific Guardian that started Monday

HMCS Saskatoon takes part in training for exercise Pacific Guardian that started Monday

An announcement starts the sequence that will see sailors don anti-flash gear and ready the weapons on a soggy grey day roughly 10 kilometres southeast of Sidney.

Fortunately it’s all in the name of training during exercise Pacific Guardian.

“The idea right now is the RCMP has asked us to search for a vessel they’re very interested in taking a look at and possibly boarding for illegal contraband,” explained Lt. Cmdr. Pat Montgomery, commanding officer of HMCS Saskatoon. “We’re helping them with the surveillance and intelligence portion, giving them information about what’s on the water.”

HMCS Saskatoon is searching alongside the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Wahoo and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter for the suspicious vessel.

The plan is to hail and divert the craft and things start off smoothly. A guy with a goofy unidentifiable accent identifies himself as a passenger carrier out whale watching and headed for Washington State. When faced with diversion for a search, the goofy accented guy gets feisty, and not so co-operative. The captain orders him to “bring the ship to action stations” and personnel start donning anti-flash gear and manning the Saskatoon’s guns.

“You’re going to see that transition from a normal peacetime hailing procedure to a little bit more of an external display of force,” Montgomery explained.

As Wahoo personnel playing the RCMP role in the scenario board the suspect vessel, a Saskatoon sailor simulates a slip, falling to the deck and suddenly there’s a new emergency.

“We’ve backed out of the picture, now we’re dealing with our own problems internally. We’re requesting a casualty evacuation by helicopter which allows us to exercise the casualty clearing organization on board and it allows us to work with the helicopter for a vertical lift off the foc’sle.”

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter simulates the pickup and the complex exercise is complete.

HMCS Nanaimo, Brandon and Saskatoon are working alongside other naval reserve units, CFB Comox personnel and a U.S. Coast Guard vessel and helicopter off the west coast of Vancouver Island until Feb. 18 in exercise Pacific Guardian, a joint coastal defence exercise. HMCS Discovery in Vancouver serves as headquarters for the exercise. The scenarios may include drug or immigrant smuggling, pollution detection, marine mammal sightings, shellfish poaching, illegal logging or criminal activities.


Did you know?

• Pacific Guardian is a twice-yearly exercise.

• Foc’sle a.k.a. forecastle refers to the upper deck of a ship forward of the foremast