OTTAWA – The Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy has said that while the fire that broke out on HMCS Fredericton last month was not due to a systemic problem in Canada’s frigate fleet, the ships of 30 years war are starting to show their age.
Fredericton was leading a NATO task force off the coast of Norway when a fire broke out in the frigate’s forward engine room on November 18. Although no one was injured, it took the crew over 20 minutes to shut themselves off as they faced tight quarters and rough seas.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Vice-Admiral Craig Baines said investigators believed the fire started after Fredericton’s main pump broke and the crew installed a temporary bilge pump until ‘so that it can be fixed.
“There was a temporary bilge pump installed with a non-fireproof hose going up through the funnel inlets, and we believe that’s what started the fire,” he said. “Once they fixed the regular pump, they just hadn’t removed the temporary pump yet.”
Although no injuries were reported, officials said the 22-minute fight to extinguish the blaze was difficult due to the frigate’s cramped spaces and because it was operating in rough seas at the time. .
The extent of the damage remains uncertain, although the Defense Ministry says wiring and some control systems were melted or damaged by heat. The warship was able to return to its home port in Halifax on December 18, five days earlier than expected.
“The good news was it wasn’t a systemic issue or anything,” Baines said. “The bad news is that it probably could have been avoided.”
Yet the fire aboard the Fredericton is just the latest incident to the 12 Canadian frigates, which entered service in the early to mid-1990s and are the hobbyhorses of the Navy. These incidents include 10 more fires since 2018, as well as at least one power outage.
The Canadian Press also reported on an internal Defense Department review last year which found that Navy maintenance facilities are finding it increasingly difficult to repair Canada’s warships due to the lack of personnel, lack of spare parts and the age of the fleet.
“There is no doubt that we are seeing the age of the ship,” said Baines. “There is no denying that ships are getting older and as a result there will be issues that arise that we would not have seen sooner.”
The federal government is working to build replacement ships as part of its multibillion-dollar national shipbuilding procurement plan, with 15 new warships to be built by Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax at a cost of ‘at least $ 56 billion.
The first of these new ships, which will replace not only the Navy’s 12 Halifax-class frigates, but also the three Iroquois-class destroyers that have already been out of service for nearly a decade, is not expected to be delivered. before at least the early 2030s.
The original plan was to bring into service what military circles refer to as “Canadian surface fighters” in the mid-2020s. But officials announced earlier this year that this will not happen, and there are fears the pandemic does not cause further delays.
This will mean investing more money in Fredericton and the rest of the Navy’s current frigate fleet to ensure Canada has enough warships to protect the country and operate overseas until the new vessels are in the water.
Baines could not provide an estimate of the amount of money that might be needed to keep the Halifax-class frigates operating, but said he was working with other parts of the government to ensure that the fleet benefits from the necessary upgrades and repairs.
“They will need investments to keep them in the right state of readiness,” he said, adding: “We are going to be very clear on what is needed to keep them, and then what investments would be needed to keep them going. the ships available and ready. “
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 29, 2021.