Fire-damaged HMCS Protecteur endures broken tow line

The snapped line is the latest problem for the disabled Canadian naval supply ship

VICTORIA – A snapped tow line is the latest problem as the disabled Canadian naval supply ship HMCS Protecteur limps back to Hawaii after an engine-room fire left it dead in the water.

Lt.-Cmdr. Desmond James at CFB Esquimalt on Vancouver Island said the aging vessel was being towed through heavy seas on Sunday when the tow line broke.

“Towing operations are hard enough but you’ve got these big war ships and they’re being tossed around in the water, pushed left, pushed right, up, down, back and forth. That really puts a strain on the tow line.”

James said Monday that USS Sioux, a deep-water ocean tug, has taken over towing duties and the slow return to dry dock in Hawaii, about 600 kilometres southwest, has resumed.

Efforts are being made to have the crippled vessel towed to Pearl Harbor by later this week, he said.

The 44-year-old vessel was in the Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii, last Thursday when a fire broke out in the engine room. Twenty crew members fighting the blaze had minor injuries.

Commodore Bob Auchterloine, the commander of the navy’s Pacific fleet, has said sailors suffered dehydration, exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

He said a doctor on board provided treatment.

Nearly 300 people were on the vessel, including 17 family members, selected to join the crew on its return leg to Esquimalt, B.C., a common practice after a long mission. They were between 14 and 73 years old.

The 172-metre HMCS Protecteur was damaged last August in a collision with HMCS Algonquin while en route to Hawaii.

Algonquin sustained most of the damage, but Protecteur’s front end was damaged. Both ships were forced to cancel a voyage to Australia and return to port in Esquimalt for repairs.

Last October, the military announced Protecteur, along with its sister ship HMCS Preserver, on the East Coast, will be retired in 2015.

(CFAX, The Canadian Press)