Only One Submarine in Canada’s Costly Naval Fleet Has Been to Sea in Years: Records

Only One Submarine in Canada’s Costly Naval Fleet Has Been to Sea in Years: Records
The centre block of HMCS Max Bernays is moved from the fabrication building to dockside at the Irving Shipbuilding facility in Halifax on Jan. 22, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan)
Amanda Brown

Only one of the vessels in Canada’s expensive submarine fleet has been to sea in recent years. Submarine maintenance and upgrade costs have surpassed $3 billion, records show.

An inquiry tabled in the Commons revealed the Royal Canadian Navy stated that only one vessel, HMCS Windsor, has been at sea since Dec. 1, 2021, as first reported by Blacklock’s Reporter. The submarine was at sea for 43 days last year.

The Windsor flooded while on patrol off the coast of Nova Scotia on Sept. 10. As a result, it had to return to its home port of Halifax. The incident was not included in the inquiry. The Department of National Defence reported that three sailors suffered minor injuries in the incident.

After requesting statistics on the fleet’s performance, Manitoba Conservative MP James Bezan asked how many days each of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Victoria class submarines had spent at sea in the last four years.

One vessel, HMCS Victoria, was last at sea in November 2021. Repairs have been ongoing on two others, the HMCS Chicoutimi and Corner Brook, for several years. According to cabinet, the cost of maintenance contracts from now until 2025 will exceed $3 billion.

“Canada’s four Victoria-class submarines form the core of the Royal Canadian Navy’s underwater surveillance capabilities,” cabinet earlier reported to Parliament. “Covert, well-armed and capable of patrolling vast distances, these submarines provide support to maritime law enforcement in investigating narcotics trafficking, smuggling, and polluting cases, as well as conducting domestic and international operations.”

Sailor shortages were acknowledged by the Canadian Submarine Force. “The force has been impacted by personnel shortages, but remains focused,” cabinet said.

A 2022 inquiry of ministry stated that the military needs 503 personnel to run the submarine capability.

“From 2019 to 2022, 140 submariners have been recruited. Seventy submariners have successfully completed their basic submarine qualifications, to date,” the inquiry said.

The four secondhand diesel-powered submarines were purchased from the United Kingdom for $750 million in 1995. The subs ranged in age from 15 to 19 years. Some of the vessels needed rapid refits and repairs.

One of the submarines caught fire and killed a crewman. On Oct. 5, 2004, the submarine caught fire in choppy waters off the coast of Ireland when it was making its first voyage to Canada.

Navy Lt. Chris Saunders passed away from smoke inhalation, and two additional crew members suffered serious injuries from toxic gases, CTV News reported.

The submarine program’s overall cost hasn’t yet been revealed.

In a 2020 report, titled “Defence Investment Plan,” then-defence minister Harjit Sajjan estimated that by 2035, the cost of continued maintenance could reach $5 billion.

“The government budgets approximately $325 million per year to conduct regular and cyclical maintenance,” Mr. Sajjan said.

The British supplier and servicing company Babcock International Group has been working with the contractor since 2008 for ongoing repairs.

The Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) fleet is made up of numerous classes of ships, submarines, and other support vessels.