Watching the battle for Libya unfold before their eyes won’t be a memory hundreds of military personnel aboard a West Coast naval warship will soon forget.
HMCS Vancouver is now heading home to CFB Esquimalt from the Mediterranean Sea, where it patrolled the Libyan coast with NATO allies last fall, and later hunted for terrorists in the politically fragile region.
As rockets fired into the night along Libya’s coast last October, Vancouver’s crew marked the progress made by advancing Libyan interim government forces. Moammar Gadhafi forces finally fell in late October.
“A lot of people fortunately don’t see this (type of conflict) every day,” the ship’s captain, Cmdr. Brad Peats, told reporters by phone from aboard Vancouver on Tuesday. “At night it’s almost like fireworks. The rocket fire would light up the sky at night and you could see explosions, and even during the day you would see the puffs of black smoke.
“We understood the gravity of the situation that was going on there.”
The frigate left CFB Esquimalt last July, carrying about 250 people, including an air crew and Sea King helicopter from 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron in Pat Bay.
“Over three patrols totalling 58 days Vancouver travelled the Libyan coast, from Tobruk to Tripoli, conducting operations such as escorting mine sweepers, boarding vessels of interest and gathering information on Gadhafi forces’ movements,” Peats, an Esquimalt resident, said adding that ****Vancouver’s crew boarded three vessels.
“Being over there, and certainly during Operation Unified Protector, I’ve no doubt that Vancouver … saved lives.”
In fact, the ship’s crew collected intelligence that, along with data compiled by other allies, allowed NATO to conduct air strikes to take out scud-missile launch sites, Peats said.
That operation ended Oct. 31, but the work didn’t. The Canadian government announced it would maintain a presence in the politically charged region until the end of 2012, as part of the counter-terrorism mission, known as Operation Active Endeavour.
HMCS Charlottetown, from Halifax, will take up where Vancouver leaves off.
Over Christmas Vancouver, with the help of its helicopter crew, touched the four corners of the Mediterranean Sea, from France and Algeria to Spain and Israel.
Peats credited his crew for their hard work, and said everyone is now looking forward to seeing loved ones.
“You can see it in the crew’s faces that we’re starting to think of home,” he said. “To say that we’re excited about coming home would be a bit of an understatement.”