HALIFAX – The Canadian warship HMCS Charlottetown returned to Halifax harbour under sunny skies Wednesday after completing a six-month tour of the Persian Gulf that was marked by a major illicit drug seizure and a rescue off the coast of Oman.
Hundreds of friends and family members carrying balloons and banners lined the military dock as the frigate was tied up on the west side of the sprawling harbour.
The Charlottetown’s mission involved surveillance, boarding suspicious vessels and gaining intelligence on potential terrorist activity in a body of water that is key to the international trade of oil.
“It’s been a very successful trip,” said Cmdr. Patrick St-Denis, the frigate’s captain.
“We were able to conduct over 103 approaches (and) nine operational boardings, leading to a discovery to over six tonnes of illegal cargo with links to terrorism.”
Navy commanders say the ongoing naval presence is vital in the area, despite criticism that the Canadian contingent has apprehended few terrorists since 2001.
The Halifax-class patrol frigate, with 250 crew and a Sea King helicopter aboard, participated in Operation Altair, part of Canada’s contribution to Operation Enduring Freedom, the code-name for the American-led war on terror.
Since the first Gulf War in 1991, the navy has sent ships to the region more than 30 times.
Last month, the 300 sailors aboard the Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Iroquois were dispatched for a six-month tour of the Gulf.
The destroyer joins the frigate HMCS Calgary and the supply vessel HMCS Protecteur as part of its mission.
As for the Charlottetown, its tour was an eventful one.
Three months into the deployment, the frigate’s crew seized almost four tonnes of hashish from the Pakistani vessel Al Moula Madad during a routine security patrol.
On Feb. 18, about 20 crew members boarded the traditional fishing dhow, finding more than 170 pillow-size sacks of hashish hidden in the fuel tanks and deck planks.
The boarding and seizure took about 17 hours to complete.
A Pakistani coast guard vessel apprehended the vessel and crew after the Charlottetown dumped the hash into the ocean.
Charlottetown was commanding eight coalition vessels and five aircraft off the coast of Pakistan at the time.
Navy officials said it was the largest drug seizure for the coalition participating in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Earlier in the month, two Pakistani men were rescued by the warship’s crew after another dhow sank off the coast of Oman.
The men, first spotted by the ship’s Sea King helicopter crew, had been drifting on a barge without food or water for at least four or five days.
It was the third time that Charlottetown’s crew responded to emergencies in the Arabian Sea. The first two involved helping fishermen whose boats were either out of fuel or food.