But the briefing notes obtained by The Canadian Press, prepared for navy commander Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, show the technicians were fighting a losing battle to keep HMCS Preserver on duty.
The documents show many of the parts on the 45-year-old ship were "beyond acceptable limits" because corrosion issues had begun to compromise the vessel's structural integrity.
National Defence said last year that both Preserver and its sister ship HMCS Protecteur — gutted by a dangerous at-sea fire — would be retired before replacement ships arrived.
"It will be very difficult to continue to confidently operate her at sea until her planned divestment date in 18 months," said the May 9, 2014 briefing note, which was also copied to the head of military procurement.
The navy had planned to replace both ships, but the Conservative government pulled the plug in August 2008 because industry proposals were proving too costly. The new program is still up to eight years way from delivering new ships.
It's long been known that the ships were in precarious shape and getting worse, but the briefing said it "was no longer viable to expend limited resources" to keep them going.
The notes make evident the department's frustration that the ships were not retired on schedule. Technicians would fix one broken part and "once this is fixed, the next question is which equipment or system will be the next to fail."
Protecteur was recently decomissioned, while a formal ceremony for Preserver has to be announced.
Since the original manufacturers long ago stopped making spare parts, a "disproportionate amount of time" was being used to source replacements, "some of which have been procured via eBay," the documents found.
A separate set of briefing notes, obtained by the federal Liberals, shows the impending retirement of the navy's Iroquois-class destroyers will leave an air defence gap for Canadian task forces at sea.
Liberal MP Marc Garneau, a former naval officer and astronaut, said the fleet is in a shambles, even with the multibillion-dollar upgrade to the Halifax-class frigates, which are the backbone of the navy.
Garneau said the absence of supply ships means Canadian warships will have to operate individually; they cannot form task forces of their own, and must rely on other nations for replenishment.
Without air defence destroyers, Canadian frigates will have to seek protection from long-range threats under the umbrella of U.S. combat vessels.
Garneau said the Conservatives played politics with the navy by cancelling new supply ships on the eve of the 2008 election, and forced the military to accept Arctic patrol ships ahead of new destroyers.
"Mr. Harper decided he wanted to be known from a legacy point of view as big on the Arctic and has gone up every year for that photo-op," Garneau said.
"That's all driven by politics."
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