Submarine towed through Hamilton en route to wreckers
Submarine in Hamilton. The HMCS Olympus, a 2,500-ton de-commissioned Canadian submarine is docked in Hamilton Harbour at Heddle Marine Service Inc. Scott Gardner/The Hamilton SpectatorSource: The Hamilton Spectator
July 29, 2011
After training generations of Canadian submariners, a proud warrior is on her way to a new life as car parts or razor blades.
HMCS Olympus, one of Canada’s four retired submarines, was floated by special barge into Hamilton Harbour Thursday morning on her way to a “ship breaking” yard on Lake Erie to be turned into scrap metal.
The sub’s journey from Halifax to Hamilton and on to Port Maitland was accomplished by two Hamilton companies, McKeil Marine and Heddle Marine Services Inc. Heddle provided a floating dry dock on which the sub was loaded while McKeil provided the tugboats that pushed and pulled the warship up the St. Lawrence River and across Lake Ontario.
Moving the sub called for some careful engineering work to ensure the 2,500-ton cargo remained stable during the 10-day voyage, explained Heddle Marine president Rick Heddle.
“We used enough cables and ridges and supports that it could never topple over,” he said. “It was a case of loading it, securing it and then watching our weather.”
Olympus is the first of three subs the companies are to move. Her sister ships, Okanagan and Ojibwa, will make the same voyage — Okanagan heading for the scrap yard and Ojibwa possibly to a new life as a museum in Port Burwell on Lake Erie. Onondaga became a museum in Quebec in 2008.
Every stage of the 1,200-nautical mile voyage was carefully planned to ensure the vessel and cargo were never too far from a safe port — a refuge they’d need whenever waves on the lake got higher than two metres or the wind blew faster than 25 knots.
The sub was moved in a process called dry towing — a Heddle-designed dry dock was submerged under the Olympus, then it lifted the boat out of the water. The alternative, a wet tow in which a tug simply hooks onto the retired vessels and pulls it along was rejected by the St. Lawrence Seaway.
“After sitting idle for almost 10 years these boats are in pretty rough shape,” Heddle said. “If one was to sink in a lock that could plug up the whole seaway system.”
Paulo Pessoa, McKeil’s vice-president for business development, said moving the submarines is only the latest in a number of challenges undertaken by the Hamilton company. In past efforts, it has been hired to recover a Second World War-era B-17 bomber that crashed in Greenland and to salvage the remains of a British aircraft that crashed into Lake Ontario during the CNE air show.
Pessoa said while foreign companies could have been hired to move and cut up the boats at lower costs, hiring Canadian firms ensured the work is done with the smallest environmental footprint.
“The (defence department) has a lot at stake here,” he said. “If they hired a company to recycle the submarine and then have it sink in the river, that would be a PR disaster.
“Paying the extra cost associated with doing it in the safest way possible is a no-brainer,” he added. “For us, redundancy was the name of the game.”
The actual destruction of the subs will handled by Marine Recovery Corp. of Port Colborne.
Olympus, Ojibwa, Okanagan and Onondaga were diesel-electric Oberon class submarines built in Britain in the 1960s. They served Canada’s navy for 30 years — Ojibwa, Okanagan and Onondaga doing Cold War-era surveillance patrols off the east coast while Olympus remained tethered as a training vessel. At the time they were built, the boats were the latest technology, according to the Canadian Naval Centennial Internet site. Between 1979 and 1981, they were upgraded, but by the late 1990s “Though respectable enough craft in their prime, the ‘O’ boats had long since reached the end of their useful lives and by July 1999, the three had been paid off and replaced by the Victoria class.”
The subs were “paid off” between 1998 and 2000.
When Okanagan is towed into Hamilton, it will actually be her second visit to the city. She was here in November 1990 as part of a good will tour of the Great Lakes — the first such voyage by a Canadian submarine.