ESQUIMALT, B.C. - A gruelling week has coming to an end for the crew of the Canadian navy supply ship HMCS Protecteur.
The vessel arrived in Pearl Harbor Thursday morning, ending a laboured voyage back to Hawaii that began after a blaze seriously damaged the ship's engine room almost exactly seven days earlier.
At the time, Protecteur was nearly 700 kilometres northeast of Hawaii, heading toward its home port of Esquimalt, B.C., with nearly 300 crew members, 17 family members and several civilian contractors aboard.
Commodore Bob Auchterlonie, the commander of the Canadian navy's Pacific fleet, said the ship encountered "an absolute worst-case scenario" of a major fire on board a tanker in the middle of the ocean at night, compounded by a power loss.
"The leadership on board, the professionalism of the sailors and the courage displayed to get through this has been absolutely exceptional," he told reporters after meeting the ship.
Auchterlonie expressed his gratitude for the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. navy's help during the ordeal.
"I can't thank them enough for the great job they did in helping our sailors get back to port safely," he said.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Shawn Mosson said he had just sat down to have a cup of coffee in the cafeteria when he heard the alarm. He immediately went down below and grabbed a hose to cool off the deck.
The heat was so intense, his eyeglasses melted when he set them down.
"Our boots were starting to melt to the deck from the heat," he said. "(We were) overcome with smoke. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face."
Mosson, from Brandon, Man., said his training kicked in and his mind went blank as he focused on fighting the fire.
Now that he's back on land, Mosson said he'll first take a shower — "a very long one at that."
He's looking forward to returning to Canada.
"As soon as I get home, I'm going to grab my wife, my son, my stepdaughter and I'm never going to let them go," he said.
The fire engulfed a space as large as a school gymnasium, three or four stories high, and the Navy reported a doctor treated sailors for dehydration, exhaustion and smoke inhalation.
The trip back to Hawaii was complicated when the tow rope broke in heavy seas over the weekend, but a U.S. navy tug took over and the rest of the voyage was slow but uneventful.
On Thursday morning, U.S. navy tug boats guided the HMCS Protecteur to a pier, and sailors disembarked having not shaved or showered in a week.
Earlier this week, an American guided-missile destroyer took 19 relatives of the Canadian crew back to Hawaii.
The Protecteur was scheduled to be retired next year.
--with files from Associated Press