With a thunderous metallic groan, two Canadian warships pulled away from the Halifax dockyards Thursday, bound for a tiny island nation in the grips of one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory.

There was little time for farewells or drawn-out speeches as 500 crewmembers aboard the HMCS Halifax and HMCS Athabaskan secured the last of their provisions and prepared to depart for Haiti, where a 7.0-magnitude earthquake has brought utter devastation.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay was on hand for the send-off, and praised the crews for their “record” response time.

“I know this mission has come about extremely quickly, but that’s the nature of what you do,” he said. “The people of Canada are behind you.”

Hundreds of naval personnel lined the decks of nearby HMCS Montreal and HMCS Charlottetown, standing at attention as the ships slipped out into the harbour and quickly faded to grey-coloured specks on the horizon.

They will likely be gone for over a month.

It will be five days before the ships reach Haiti, where they will aid in search-and-rescue efforts and distribute clothes, purified water, food, tents, blankets, and medical supplies.

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