March 10, 2017 - Halifax, N.S. - Department of National Defence / Royal Canadian Navy
Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Athabaskan was paid off during a ceremony at HMC Dockyard in Halifax today. HMCS Athabaskan, the last of the four Iroquois-class Area Air Defence destroyers, served the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) with distinction for more than 44 years. Today’s ceremony concludes a significant chapter in RCN history.
The Iroquois Class was a made-in-Canada solution to the defence and security challenges of the Cold War and post-Cold war era of the late 20th Century. They introduced state-of-the- art Canadian sonar technology to undersea surveillance, and perfected the combat operations of two large maritime helicopters from each of their flight decks.
Under the auspices of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, the RCN is in the midst of one of the most comprehensive periods of fleet modernization and renewal in its modern history. Despite the retirement of the Iroquois Class and its long-range air defence capability, the modernized Halifax-class Canadian Patrol Frigates, Kingston-class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels, and Victoria-class submarines are the bridge to the future fleet. These platforms will sustain the essential role of the RCN in the defence of our country and protection of sovereignty on three oceans. Moreover, the RCN will continue to provide the Government of Canada globally deployable maritime force options that serve the national interest in defence, security, and capacity building in foreign states and humanitarian aid. It is with great anticipation that the navy awaits the first of the DeWolf-class Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships and a leased solution from industry for the provision of an underway replenishment ship to support the long distance deployments of a navy widely recognized for its global reach and effect. It is the Canadian Surface Combatant, however, that will return the navy to its full potential, just as the Tribal-class destroyers did during their remarkable era of service from 1970 to 2017.
“HMCS Athabaskan and her Iroquois-class sister ships served the RCN exceptionally well for more than 40 years. While we look back on the great contribution made by these vessels – and their crews – to Canadian defence, and the support provided to our Allies and partners around the world, we also look toward the future, and ensuring the Royal Canadian Navy remains responsive and capable, through the Canadian Surface Combatant project that will replace both the Iroquois-class destroyers and our Halifax-class frigates.”
Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence
“Today we celebrate the end of an era. HMCS Athabaskan is the last of the Tribal-class destroyers to be decommissioned. When Canada put this ship into service the technological achievements were so impressive that the Tribals were referred to as the “sisters of the space age”. For those of us fortunate to have sailed in these ships we celebrate the important leadership role that Athabaskan, and her sister ships, fulfilled in the defence of Canada and in support of partners and allies. Canadians can proudly reflect on Canada’s response to the occupation of Kuwait, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and the devastating earthquake in Haiti. I know that those of us serving today, are proud to continue to follow in the wake of all those who have so brilliantly served in HMCS Athabaskan during the last 44 years. We stand here today as equally committed and dedicated as those who walked aboard her on the day of her commissioning.”
Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy
“As a former sailor who was trained and mentored on the decks of a Tribal-class destroyer, I am struck by the great significance of this ship’s decommissioning. The name Athabaskan, and those of her sister ships Iroquois, Algonquin and Huron, conjure up the greatness of our country, its vast geography, the first peoples, and the impactful contributions of the Royal Canadian Navy in war and peace. There are tens of thousands of Canadians who served aboard these ships and whose hearts ache for what has passed. To them, I salute their service and praise their contributions to a navy that remains focused, effective and fully committed to providing value-added contribution to maritime security operations wherever there is water and whenever called upon by the Government of Canada.”
Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic
HMCS Athabaskan, an area air defence destroyer, served on a number of domestic and expeditionary operations, protecting Canada’s sovereignty in the North Atlantic Ocean. A helicopter-carrying, anti-submarine warfare destroyer, the ship was designed and built for operations in the stormy North Atlantic, enforcing Canadian laws in its territorial waters.
The third RCN ship to carry the name, the current Athabaskan was built in Quebec and commissioned on the 30th of September 1972, and was at the time the most modern anti-submarine warship in Canada.
In 1991-94, HMCS Athabaskan underwent a major conversion and was entirely modified to become an anti-air warship. This transformed the warship into a modern area air defence platform with state-of-the-art weapons, sensors, and command and control systems.
When a ship reaches the end of its commission, it is “paid off”, a term that dates from the days when sailors were literally paid the wages owing them as they went ashore. The Ensign and the Captain’s pennant were hauled down and the ship was usually placed in reserve.
Today the ship’s company gave a last cheer to the ship and marched off for the final time, followed by the Commanding Officer being piped ashore as the commissioning pennant, Jack, and Ensign were hauled down and the port flag hoisted. A fitting tribute to a warship and its’ sailors who served with distinction.