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HMCS Winnipeg crew finally visit namesake

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The former commander and a handful of crew members from the navy frigate HMCS Winnipeg have finally been able to visit the city their ship was named after.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/03/2022 (322 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The former commander and a handful of crew members from the navy frigate HMCS Winnipeg have finally been able to visit the city their ship was named after.

The annual visit was cancelled the two previous years because of COVID-19 restrictions and scheduling conflicts. A 2020 visit would’ve feted the ship’s 25th anniversary, but the ship and crew will have to wait until the next milestone to celebrate.

Cmdr. Doug Layton said the visit was a whirlwind affair, with stops at city hall, the legislative building, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, naval reserve unit HMCS Chippawa and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights — and a Jets game Tuesday night.

Commander Doug Layton, who until recently led the HMCS Winnipeg, is visiting the city the navy frigate was named after. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)

“It’s very, very nice, and very kind of them,” Layton said of how he and his crew were treated during the trip, much of which Layton said was organized by former mayor Susan Thompson.

The trip came shortly after Layton officially handed over command of the HMCS Winnipeg to Cmdr. Annick Fortin. Layton’s final journey as head of the ship was a four-month deployment in the Pacific Ocean. The mission had two objectives, he said.

“One of them was just to show commitment to all our allies and partners,” Layton said.

Allies in the region included the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, he said. The ship also met up with a U.K. naval battle group of four or five ships, including a new aircraft carrier called Queen Elizabeth, which Layton said was unusual. The United Kingdom hasn’t had much presence in the region for 30 or 40 years.

“The goal there is really to show presence and to show potential competitors in the world that we believe in the international rules-based order, and that we’re there to defend it,” he said. “We’re not taking any sides, but the seas are international, and anybody has a right to use it.”

The second objective was to carry out Operation Neon, which is Canada’s contribution to United Nations sanctions on North Korea. The ship monitored fuel and other commodities entering the country to ensure no one was violating embargoes.

Layton said given the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ships such as the HMCS Winnipeg will be “extremely important” as Canada and its allies navigate a tumultuous situation. Two sister ships are currently in the Mediterranean working with NATO allies, ready to carry out whatever orders come in, he said.

“That could be rescuing refugees; that could be rescuing Canadian citizens that happened to be in the areas,” Layton said.

Layton said the deployment had many interesting sights, including the Taiwan Strait — which he said was congested with fishing boats — and a powerful display of warships from the People’s Republic of China.

The last couple years have been a challenge for the crew, he said. Worldwide COVID-19 protocols relegated sailors to the ship for most of its journeys. Crew held parties and other diversions more often to counteract the isolation, Layton said.

The HMCS Winnipeg had 256 crew members on its last voyage. The ship is one of 12 Halifax-class frigates built in an eight-year period, and Layton said its 27 years in service puts it at about two-thirds of its life expectancy. The first ship in the Royal Canadian Navy’s newest class, called Harry DeWolf-class, launched its maiden voyage in August 2021.

fpcity@freepress.mb.ca

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