By Master Seaman Christopher Carle St-Jacques
Just prior to Remembrance Day, in the Gulf of Tehuantepec, off the coast of Mexico, a storm is brewing. Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Nanaimois on station conducting drug interdiction operations nearby. How does a Kingston Class vessel prepare for an upcoming storm while remaining mission effective and poised for action at a moment’s notice?
It all begins in the Operations Room, the brain of the ship. The Naval Combat Information Operators receive a weather message about a possible upcoming storm in our area of operation. They correlate the information with the weather report from the Meteorological and Oceanography Command and send that information to the Navigating Officer (NavO).
The NavO then looks at the 48 and 72 hour prognosis and finds the exact time the ship needs to depart the area to safely slip away before the storm, while still being available to be employed. Once the NavO has the full picture, he briefs the Operations Officer (OpsO) who includes the updated information in the meteorological brief.
“I receive a weather breakdown from the navigating officer and incorporate that analysis along with multiple other operational variables to create several courses of action. I then present them to the Captain.” says the OpsO, who cannot be named for security reasons.
“For example, I might provide options such as staying on task as long as possible, departing from the area with return as soon as the weather allows, or requesting a new patrol area less affected by the weather to conduct our operation. All these options come with a risk analysis, operational impact analysis and my final recommendation.”
“All these situations are unique. The Executive Officer, Operations Officer, Coxswain, and Physician Assistant all provide me with feedback on the status of their departments to find the best course of action,” says Commander Jason Bergen, HMCS Nanaimo’s Commanding Officer (CO).
The CO then weighs the options. In this case, he decides to request a new location less affected by weather that allows HMCS Nanaimo to continue fulfilling its role on Operation CARIBBE.
But what if the CO had decided the ship would remain on station and weather the storm?
In that case, all departments onboard HMCS Nanaimo would secure for sea. As larger waves may batter the ship, all loose material must be secured and tied down. Toolboxes are closed and locked, publications are returned to their shelves, and a retaining bar is placed across them. From the CO down to the Ordinary Seaman all members of the ship’s company secure their cabins to make sure nothing flies when the ship hits the waves.
The Marine System Engineering department closes all openings and natural ventilation leading to the forecastle, as it may be partially submerged while the ship is riding the waves. The rest of the department’s routine is not affected much by the weather as the ship still needs its electricity and propulsion.
“During a storm, my job doesn’t change. Mainly, I will recommend speed changes if the motors are going over their capacity due to the wave height,” says an Engineering Officer of the Watch.
The Deck department rigs life lines on the forecastle and the sweep deck. Though the upper decks will be out of bounds, in the event of an emergency these life lines will offer a point for the sailors to anchor themselves if they have to proceed outside.
Another important consideration during a storm is personnel management. Even with nausea medication some sailors are unable to function in heavy seas. It is up to those that are able to function to ensure that the ship is still manned on all required stations.
If the ship is under extreme weather conditions, the Commanding Officer may order a pipe (ship-wide announcement) to bring the ship to minimum manning. In this case, all non-essential positions are secured and personnel go to their beds and secure their seat belts.
“It’s about striking a balance between personnel that are able to function and the mission. If we are simply transiting toward Esquimalt, I can order a pipe down and still complete our mission. If we are tasked with search and rescue, I may have to keep more personnel on watch in order to complete our task,” adds Commander Bergen.
Despite the storm that moved through the Eastern Pacific just after Remembrance Day, both HMCS Nanaimo and HMCS Edmonton were able to mitigate the storm and remain Ready Aye Ready on Operation CARIBBE, Canada’s contribution to Operation MARTILLO, a United States Joint Interagency Task Force South operation responsible for conducting interagency and international detection and monitoring operations and facilitating the interdiction of illicit trafficking.