HMCS Charlottetown returns home from Libya
After a six-month deployment with NATO forces off the Libyan coast, HMCS Charlottetown returned to the Halifax dockyard Friday morning to cheers from a large, boisterous crowd.
The first person to step off the ship was Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Coates, who was greeted by his wife and his newborn son for the first time.
"It's pure bliss," he said. "It's overwhelming relief."
Reporting from the dockyard, CTV's Atlantic Bureau Chief Battis said "there's not a soul here who doesn't have a large family contingent that has been waiting for them."
"As you can imagine, the mood is jubilant."
Hundreds of well-wishers and family members greeted the Charlottetown's 240-member crew as they disembarked, including a large contingent of Libyan expatriates who waved flags and hoisted signs thanking crew members for helping to patrol the Libyan coast while a civil war rages on land.
Among the crowd was Fathi Ghani, a 48-year old Libyan immigrant.
"We came to show our appreciation to the troops," he said. "We want to celebrate with them. ... The Libyan community in Canada will not forget this, and the Libyans in Libya will not forget."
The NATO mission was launched in March to enforce a no-fly zone, arms embargo and to protect Libyan civilians.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Peter Penashue and Gen.Walter Natynczyk, the chief of the defence staff, were also on hand for HMCS Charlottetown's return from its role in the mission, known as Operation Unified Protector.
Battis said the crew of the Charlottetown received little warning when they shipped off to Libya, leaving their families and friends to cope with their sudden departure. One sailor, for example, was thrilled to see a baby son who had been born while he was away at sea.
The Charlottetown helped enforce the arms embargo during its deployment, as well as protecting the port city of Misrata from seaborne attacks. The ship was fired on at least twice, though its crew did not suffer any casualties.
"Fortunately, it wasn't as close as it could've been and there was no harm done," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said. "But it speaks to the dangers and the peril that troops face when they go into a volatile situation like this."
For their part, the returning sailors from the Charlottetown said they were proud of the mission they took part in.
Battis said many of the Charlottetown's crew members he spoke with were "thrilled to be home" and were "feeling good about their mission."
As Coates put it: "Our little contribution hopefully goes a long way."
HMCS Vancouver has taken the place of the Charlottetown in the ongoing NATO mission in Libya.
With files from The Canadian Press