Marine Atlantic to the rescue

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Canadian Forces availed of ferry service for hurricane Igor response

When the Canadian Forces set out on Operation Lama, ready to bring disaster relief assistance to the island of Newfoundland, they turned to Marine Atlantic for help. The military booked passage with the ferry service to move troops, equipment and supplies in from the mainland.

It was a matter of convenience, since the ferry was there, but also of necessity, according to Canadian Forces Rear Admiral David Gardam.

“The navy does not have large, strategic lift. We don’t. Right now, for example, a lot of the support in Afghanistan, we are using ships that we have leased. RoRos that we have leased — roll on, roll offs — you see them there all the time,” Gardam said during a visit to St. John’s last week.

The leased vessels allow for the transport of troops, heavy equipment and trucks.

It all comes down to dollars, he said. “It’s far more cost-effective to (lease) than build a ship, purpose-built just to do that type of mission.”

Hurricane Igor struck the island Sept. 21. On Sept. 24, military personnel and equipment were loaded onto the MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood — 123 people and a range of vehicles including supply trucks, trucks towing equipment for bridging and two buses (the equivalent of 37 commercial units in total). They disembarked upon arrival in Argentia Sept. 25.

“Thank goodness the ferry was there and ready to go. And they waited an extra hour and a half for us and we were able to catch it and away we went. Had we not done that, we would have looked at other means to get over here,” Gardam said.

To date, Marine Atlantic has provided more than $50,000 in complimentary passage to the military for Operation Lama, Marine Atlantic representative Tara Laing stated.

She also said no regular passengers were put out, and no bookings deferred, because of the military’s request for passage.

“We were actually working with the military a few days before the final decision was made to assist in relief efforts, so we were able to accommodate on  the vessel,” she stated in an email.

While the soldiers have since left the island for the most part, Laing stated the vehicles and equipment continue to be sailed back to the mainland. More is scheduled to travel on the Marine Atlantic service this week.

The remaining Canadian Forces assets leaving by ferry will depart from Port aux Basques, as the crossing held for the military response Sept. 24 was the last made to Argentia for the year.

The schedule shift, the shut down of the Argentia service, entered into planning for the arrival of forces, Gardam said. He said he started having soldiers pack and sending equipment on to the Marine Atlantic ferry terminal in North Sydney before the province had made any official request for assistance.

“Thank goodness the ferry was there and ready to go.” Rear Admiral David Gardam

A request for assistance was ultimately made, but Gardam said he was not looking for any kind of go-ahead permission once he became aware of the ferry schedule.

“I would have put them on the ferry and sent them across, whether the government had said ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ because I had a three-day gap between ferries. I couldn’t wait for another ferry,” he said. “I was doing that all on my hook. So I’m paying the cheque. With the understanding that, if it’s not required, OK, I’ve leaned forward, but I didn’t fail Canada.”

Gardam’s decisions led to positive results. The swiftness of the 13-day military operation earned mention by Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay Oct. 6.

“The Canadian Forces were on the ground within hours of the province’s request for assistance and worked diligently to assist the people most affected by hurricane Igor,” MacKay stated in a post-op news release.

Organizations: Marine Atlantic, Canadian Forces, National Defence

Geographic location: Argentia, Island of Newfoundland, Afghanistan Port aux Basques North Sydney Canada

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