Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Athabaskan ended 44 years of service in a simple ceremony last Friday at HMC Dockyard in Halifax.
The vessel was the last of the four Iroquois-class destroyers which were fondly called the Sisters of the Space Age, or Tribals. The ships were a made-in-Canada solution to the defence and security challenges of the Cold War and post-Cold War era of the late 20th century.
The Athabaskan and her sister ships Iroquois, Algonquin, and Huron carried on the proud legacy of their wartime namesake ships that fought with audacity and courage in the Battle of the Atlantic, Murmansk Convoys, D-Day landings and Korea.
The Iroquois-class vessels introduced state-of-the-art Canadian sonar technology to undersea surveillance and perfected the combat operations of two large maritime helicopters from each of their flight decks.
The class was later modernized to defend an entire naval task force against ever more menacing missile threats while providing the communications and computer infrastructure for a senior commander to direct major maritime operations in a regional theatre.
Athabaskan served in the First Gulf War and was in the thick of battle alongside United States Ship (USS) Princeton, disabled by Iraqi sea mines.
Iroquois carried the Canadian senior commander and international staff that implemented a most effective NATO embargo during a civil war in the former Yugoslavia.
Athabaskan provided essential humanitarian aid in Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2008, and again following Haiti’s tragic 2010 earthquake.
Most recently, Athabaskan undertook effective counterdrug patrols in the Caribbean Sea and worked diligently on the continental defence mission while training next-generation sailors during the modernization of the Halifax-class frigates.
“As a former sailor who was trained and mentored on the decks of a Tribal-class destroyer, I am struck by the great significance of this ship’s decommissioning,” said Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic. “…There are tens of thousands of Canadians who served aboard these ships and whose hearts ache for what has passed.”
Now, the RCN awaits the first of the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Vessels and a leased solution from industry for the provision of an underway replenishment ship to support the long-distance deployments of a navy widely recognized for its global reach and effect.