HALIFAX — Military members aboard a Canadian naval frigate began the new year by sailing out of Halifax Harbour on Friday to bolster Canada's engagement in a long-standing NATO training mission
The HMCS Halifax, manned by a crew of 252 and commanded by Commodore Bradley Peats, set sail under clear skies en route to a six-month deployment as part of Operation Reassurance in central and eastern Europe. The vessel will join Standing NATO Maritime Group One in the Mediterranean Sea.
Peats said Friday the HMCS Halifax will be the 15th Canadian warship to be sent on the operation since 2014. He said the deployment will help demonstrate solidarity with other Allied forces and showcase the Royal Canadian Navy’s "continued leadership as an agile, fighting force and steadfast partner."
Canada has more than 900 members of the armed forces deployed as part of Reassurance, making it the country's largest current international military operation.
The departure ceremony on the jetty, which would typically be bustling with families and friends of the crew, was scaled back to a limited gathering of military personnel and civilian dignitaries due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Cmdr. Christopher Rochon, commanding officer of HMCS Halifax, said Friday the crew had taken strict precautions to ensure their safety on their long journey, including an isolation period prior to their departure.
"This ship is, in all respects, ready from a personnel, technical and training readiness perspective to accomplish our mission to show Canadian leadership and be the vanguard for Canadians abroad," he said.
The global pandemic will ensure this deployment looks different from past naval missions.
HMCS Halifax Petty Officer First Class Joyce Farmer said crew members will have to remain on board for the entirety of the deployment in order to maintain COVID-19 protection protocols.
Farmer described the move as far from the norm, but said those on board the frigate have plans to make due.
"When we come alongside a foreign port, we don't get to go ashore anymore," Farmer said. "But we as a family will be able ... to show more of our family what we're doing, how we're staying healthy, how we're staying safe.
Nova Scotia Lieutenant Governor Arthur LeBlanc attended the ceremony, saluting the ship as tug boats drew it into the Bay ahead of its departure.
The Canadian Armed Forces has previously had members serve on the operation in central and eastern Europe, conducting training exercises to ensure the force is ready to work with Allied partners in the event of a conflict.
The Halifax departure follows one out of southern Ontario of the HMCS Toronto, which left on its six-month deployment this summer and returned in December.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 1, 2021.
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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Danielle Edwards, The Canadian Press