PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – A Canadian refuelling ship disabled by an engine fire pulled into Pearl Harbor under tow Thursday morning with nearly 300 sailors aboard.
U.S. Navy tug boats guided the HMCS Protecteur to a pier after making a slow journey from Pacific Ocean waters north of Hawaii.
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The ship got help from the U.S. Navy after the fire broke out last week, leaving 20 sailors with minor injuries, the Royal Canadian Navy said. The fire engulfed a space as large as a school gymnasium, three or four stories high. The Canadian navy said a doctor treated sailors for dehydration, exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
Sailors came off the ship having not shaved or showered in a week. The ship lost power amid the fire and did not regain it during the trip to Pearl Harbor.
Commodore Bob Auchterlonie, leader of the Canadian Pacific Fleet, said the ship encountered “an absolute worst-case scenario” of a major fire on board a tanker in the middle of the ocean at night, compounded by the power loss.
“The leadership on board, the professionalism of the sailors and the courage displayed to get through this has been absolutely exceptional,” he told reporters after meeting the ship.
Auchterlonie expressed his gratitude for the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy’s help during the ordeal. “I can’t thank them enough for the great job they did in helping our sailors get back to port safely,” he said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Mosson said he had just sat down to have a cup of coffee in the cafeteria when he heard the alarm. He immediately went down below and grabbed a hose to cool off the deck.
The heat was so intense, his eyeglasses melted when he set them down.
“Our boots were starting to melt to the deck from the heat,” he said. “(We were) overcome with smoke. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.”
Mosson, from Brandon, Manitoba, said his training kicked in and his mind went blank as he focused on fighting the fire.
Now that he’s back on land, Mosson said he’ll first take a shower – “a very long one at that.”
He’s looking forward to returning to Canada.
“As soon as I get home, I’m going to grab my wife, my son, my stepdaughter and I’m never going to let them go,” he said.
The fire was under investigation, and Cmdr. Al Harrigan of Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters said getting the ship back to a dock was the first step in that process and eventually guiding the vessel back to Canada.
The 44-year-old Protecteur was on its way home from a three- to four-week deployment, he said.
The Protecteur is a supply ship that refuels and provides food and parts to other navy vessels at sea.
Earlier this week, an American guided-missile destroyer took 19 relatives of the Canadian crew back to Hawaii. The family members had been travelling with the Protecteur as part of a regular program allowing relatives to join crews on return trips from long missions. The rest of the crew stayed with the Protecteur, except for one crew member who cut his hand, Harrigan said.
The tow was initially complicated by rough seas that caused the tow line to break on Sunday. But the deep-water ocean tug USS Sioux took over the towing, and the escort saw better conditions later in the week.
The Protecteur was scheduled to be retired next year.
©2014The Canadian Press