A dramatic engine room fire that left a Canadian navy supply ship adrift in the Pacific Ocean raged for 11 hours, knocking out power and forcing the crew to fight the blaze in the dark, says the commanding officer.
The Feb. 27 fire tore through HMCS Protecteur's engine room, a space Commander Jules Elbourne described as being roughly the size of a school gymnasium.
Cdr. Elbourne said 17 attack teams rushed in and out of the area throughout the night to fight the blaze.
While they managed to knock down the main fire after four exhausting hours, it took another seven hours to put out all the hot spots.
"During that 11-hour period, we had two reflashes of fire, which happens any time you have a fire," Cdr. Elbourne said in an interview from Hawaii, where the ship is stranded until it can be towed back to Canada.
"As you knock out the main fire and then oxygen hits you, it produces the reflashes. Those were dealt with very effectively that night."
For two days after the blaze, Protecteur was dead in the water about 700 kilometres northeast of Hawaii. The vessel finally regained power on the third day, but the crew experienced another fire in the same area.
"Some of the cabling had melted, and when we put power through those cables, we had another small fire that was effectively dealt with because that space was manned all the time," Cdr. Elbourne said.
The commander praised his 280-person crew for their heroic efforts.
"I couldn't be prouder of the men and women that were on the ship that night," he said. "They showed incredible bravery and courage and determination, and worked as a team in perhaps the worst circumstances you can expect at sea, and overcame a huge battle and really fought for themselves, for their shipmates and for their ship."
Cdr. Elbourne said the blaze not only caused extensive smoke damage to the engine room, but to the living spaces of roughly 160 crew members as well. Due to the damage, Protecteur needed help from three U.S. vessels over the next week as it was towed to Pearl Harbor.
The crew members and nearly two dozen civilians were aboard the ship, which was returning home after a seven-week mission in the Pacific.
The visitors were transferred to another vessel that responded to the emergency. Cdr. Elbourne said they and about 100 crew members have now returned to Protecteur's home port of CFB Esquimalt on Vancouver Island.
"What we're doing is we're reducing to 130 crew by April 4," he said. "Those 130 crew will stay here in Pearl Harbor with me and get the ship prepped for the unmanned tow back to Esquimalt."
There's still no firm date for when the aging supply ship will return to Vancouver Island, where the vessel will undergo a thorough damage assessment, but Cdr. Elbourne says it could be late April or May.
The Protecteur was scheduled to be retired next year.