I’ve covered many interesting stories around the world, but consider this one of my more memorable assignments.
My colleague Jonathan Austin and I were recently embedded on board Canadian warship HMCS Toronto as it patrolled the Black Sea under NATO’s ‘Operation Reassurance’ mission – tasked to promote security and stability in Eastern Europe in the wake of Russian aggression against Ukraine.
It was a first hand look at the mandate and the mission. And in what may be a Canadian first, we transmitted our daily reports via satellite off the back of the flight deck – deep in the middle of the Black Sea.
For 7 days, we lived in crammed quarters and experienced the living and stressful working conditions of the dedicated crew of 200+.
We chronicled real-time emergency maneuvers – including exclusive access inside the ship’s Command Centre – which picked up a ‘buzz’ after a pair of Russian fighter jets flew ‘provocatively’ close to the vessel (the night I filed this report, the Black Sea was particularly choppy):
There were also questions about the status/future of the mission after HMCS Toronto reached its maximum patrolling limit in the region under international rules:
Of course, there were military hardware issues that could not be ignored. The only helicopter on the vessel broke down, and HMCS Toronto is showing its age:
Some interesting sidenotes:
Ship Commander Jason Armstrong imposed a strict no-alcohol policy on board the vessel. This was put in place after 3 incidents of “personal misconduct” on board HMCS Whitehorse earlier this year. All crew members we spoke to respected it and understood why this was necessary.
On shore leave, crew members were limited to maximum limit of 2 drinks per day.
And yes, I felt seasick – despite plenty of gravol. But it wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. Many of the seasoned crew wore preventive medical patches behind their ears to prevent sickness. And for a few days, the Black Sea was very rough.