HMCS Saskatoon participates in the North American Maritime Security Initiative Pacific Exercise 2017

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Article / March 10, 2017

By: Sub-Lieutenant Susannah Anderson, Public Affairs Officer, Operation CARIBBE

Four ships fade into the horizon, their gray hulls disappearing in the light morning haze. A radio on Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Saskatoon crackles with a mix of Spanish and English as the ships of the Royal Canadian Navy, the United States Coast Guard (USCG), and the Secretaria de Marina Armada de Mexico meet off the coast of Manzanillo, Mexico. The naval forces of these three North American nations are old friends, brought together in the Eastern Pacific with a specific goal: to stop illicit trafficking.

The Eastern Pacific is a maritime highway, bringing drugs and people from Central and South America into North America. Since 2006, Canada, along with partners, has stopped or disrupted more than 66 metric tonnes of cocaine in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This is known as Operation CARIBBE.

From March 2 to 5, 2017, four warships came together for the North American Maritime Security Initiative (NAMSI). This multi-day exercise helps Canada, the United States, and Mexico to work together to stop the trafficking. The ship’s crews practiced their responses to an illegal trafficking event, honed their reaction time, and shared lessons with each other.

Late in the afternoon, HMCS Saskatoon slowed as a small gray boat slid into its wake. Known as an Interceptor, these fast, low to the water boats are used to board ships to search for illegal drugs. Crewmembers from the Mexican warship Armada de Mexico De La Vega leapt over the stern rails of HMCS Saskatoon in a simulated boarding drill, secured the deck, and brought their team safely on board.

A few hours later, it was HMCS Saskatoon’s turn. Its embarked Law Enforcement Detachment from the USCG boarded Armada de Mexico De La Vega, scrambling up rope ladders to seize control of their flight deck.

After the exercises, members of the USCG and HMCS Saskatoon met with their Mexican counterparts in the wardroom of Armada de Mexico De La Vega. The discussions quickly became passionate as these sailors at the front lines shared their determination to stop illegal trafficking and their commitment to the partnership between their three nations. Capitan de Fregata Perez, Captain of Armada de Mexico De La Vega spoke to the necessity of the NAMSI partnership: “The criminals are smart, we need to be smart; our three nations work better together.”

The Deck Officer of HMCS Saskatoon spent a day onboard USCG cutter Alert, watching their battle rhythm as they launched and recovered a helicopter.  It is his first operational sail with the Royal Canadian Navy. While he cannot be named for operational security reasons, he spoke to the central role that teamwork plays in NAMSI. “It is comforting to know that a ship is a ship is a ship, no matter what country it sails for. We are one team, sharing responsibility for maritime security in the Eastern Pacific. NAMSI helps strengthen the ties between Canada, Mexico and the United States Coast Guard, making sure we are on the same page to support North American security goals.”

After the training, HMCS Saskatoon turned south to continue on its mission. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Commander Todd Bacon, was eager to start the hunt. It is his fifth Operation CARIBBE and his second as captain of HMCS Saskatoon.

“The crew of HMCS Saskatoon is once again ‘ready, aye, ready’ to deploy to the Eastern Pacific region along with regional partners in order to help supress criminal activities in the region,” he said. “The solid foundation of trust, built up over the last few days has led to better working relationships between the three services. While illegal drugs smugglers will continue to try to make their way north in the Eastern Pacific, our combined forces stand in their way. The partnership between the Royal Canadian Navy, the United States Coast Guard and the Secretaria de Marina Armada de Mexico has created an effective force to reduce the volume of drugs reaching North America’s shores.”

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