Second HMCS Annapolis is making waves off B. C.’s rain coast

Decommissioned destroyer escort was one of Canada’s distinctive 1960s-era St. Laurentclass ‘Cadillacs"

An honoured name in Canadian naval history is in the news again. Plans to sink the stripped-down destroyer escort HMCS Annapolis as an artificial reef in Howe Sound have been met with successive challenges.

This is the second Canadian destroyer to bear the name of the river that runs through Nova Scotia’s fabled Annapolis Valley. The first Annapolis began her career as the USS Mackenzie and was one of six of the 50 WW1-era four-stacker destroyers acquired by Great Britain from the U.S. under Lend-Lease then turned over to the Royal Canadian Navy.

Commissioned in Halifax in September 1940, the "new" HMCS Annapolis underwent refit (including removal of one of her four funnels) and strengthening after having spent 17 years in mothballs. Initially assigned to convoy escort duties out of Halifax, in 1944 she was attached as a training ship to the RCN training base, HMCS Cornwallis. Thousands of new Canadian seamen learned the ropes aboard the Annapolis and she also participated in the salvage of the S.S. James Miller, aground in the Bay of Fundy. Paid off in June 1945, she was sold for scrapping to an American firm in June 1945.

The second Annapolis, currently awaiting a Viking’s grave, is our 20th postwar destroyer escort. Built in Halifax Shipyards, she was commissioned Dec. 19, 1964, and served until her retirement, July 1, 1998.

Once known as Cadillacs, Canada’s distinctive 1960s-era St. Laurent-class DE’s were among the first to have rounded contours to allow the rinsing away of radioactive contamination in the event of nuclear war. Equipped with variable depth sonar "developed and manufactured in Canada," and a heli-port for a Sea King helicopter, Annapolis and her sisters were specially-designed to "deal with modern high-speed submarines".

In short, 115-metre-long Annapolis and company exemplified "the high degree of professional and technical skill achieved by those concerned with the design, construction and fitting out of warships in Canada". (This was during the Cold War, remember.) Among her achievements during her 32-year-long career, Annapolis was the first Canadian warship to employ a towed array sonar system and the first (1990) to employ a mixed-gender crew. She spent most of her career on the east coast and, upon reassignment to Maritime Forces Pacific, served as a training ship until she was decommissioned, Nov. 15, 1996. Placed in reserve and paid off two years later, she was stripped of her weaponry and sensor gear and sold to the Artificial Reef Society in 2008 which scheduled her for sinking in 2010.

That hasn’t happened because of environmental concerns. As of April 14, the latest news report states, this one in Sechelt’s Coast Reporter, the situation has only worsened, with financial, legal and environmental problems now threatening the continued existence of the ARSBC itself.

(Of the seven vessels currently serving as artificial reefs in B.C. waters, five are ex-RCN ships: the four destroyers Chaudiere, Mackenzie, Sasatchewan, Columbia, and the repair ship Cape Breton.) All approvals are said to be in place but for that of Environment Canada because of concern for the ship’s polychlorinated biphenlys insulation. Apparently, a citizens’ group, Save Halkett Bay, brought the EC into the picture. According to an ARSBC spokesman, volunteers have spent 20,000 hours stripping the ship of possible hazards and prepping it for its final voyage to the deep.

More threatening to the society, which is said to be financially challenged, is a lawsuit in the amount of $95,240 that was launched by a marine contractor for services rendered and mooring fees – although he said he’s willing to forego his suit if the ship is scuttled elsewhere than is intended.

So, as of this writing, the sinking of HMCS Annapolis as an artificial reef, at least in Halkett Bay, off the southeastern shore of Gambier Island, remains, so to speak, up in the air.

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