Ken Hansen is an adjunct professor in political science at Dalhousie University and a research fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies.
He says he's concerned that the government is decommissioning HMCS Preserver, Algonquin, Iroquois and Protecteur before replacement ships are in place.
“The navy is becoming significantly less capable today because of this decision. The future is a big question mark, because the new ships have even yet to be designed. They’re a long way away from being delivered," he said Friday.
The move may also put naval jobs at risk. “There’s a major reduction in naval activity by the decommissioning of ships,” he said.
Retiring the ships will also bite into Nova Scotia's economy, as it means the end of re-fuelling, re-supplying, maintaining and repairing the vessels.
Hansen notes the first new vessels will be Arctic patrol ships — an indication of Ottawa's priorities, he says.
“What this says for the navy, generally, is that the government has a priority and that priority has always been the Arctic," Hansen said.
With the decommissioning of HMCSProtecteur, which partly served as a refuelling ship, Hansen notes the navy now has only one refueller and it's in an "advanced state of corrosion."
No replacements until 2019 or later
The move comes as no surprise for any of the ships.
Protecteur's days were thought to be numbered after a fire in the 45-year-old tanker's engine room left the ship adrift in the Pacific last February and it had to be towed back to Victoria from Hawaii.
Protecteur and sister ship HMCS Preserver were ordered replaced by the federal government a decade ago, but their replacements aren't due to enter service until 2019 at the earliest.
The other three vessels, all Tribal class destroyers, were commissioned in the early '70s and have been Canada's largest fighting ships for decades.
The Tribals have been a mainstay of Canada's contribution to NATO and have been sent to various international trouble spots. The fourth Tribal, HMCS Huron, was retired in 2000 and sunk as a target in 2007.
The exact timeline for retiring and disposing of the ships is unclear.
The federal government has announced a new class of 15 ships to replace the Tribals and Canada's Halifax-class frigates, but it's unclear when work will start on the vessels or when they'll begin entering service.
End of an era
Graham McBride, retired chief petty officer, served on the original Iroquois (decommissioned in 1962) and the newer ship carrying the same name.
“When they came out, they were the final word on warships,” McBride said Friday from the deck of HMCS Sackville, a museum ship in Halifax.
“Protecteur, where I finished my ship as coxswain, was a marvellous ship. Very efficient ships. They were the tankers and supply ships for the fleet at sea.”
McBride said it’s the end of an era, as what was once modern is now outdated. “It’s kind of sad to see them go,” he said. “I spent 30 years in the service and enjoyed every single minute. I couldn’t wait for Monday morning to come.”
McBride enrolled in the Forces in 1950 and served two tours in the Korean conflict before retiring in 1980. He later worked at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which he described as “like heaven, only smaller,” and now shows visitors around the Sackville.
Correction : An earlier version incorrectly said HMCS Athabaskan was being decommissioned. It is not; the fourth ship being decommissioned is HMCS Preserver. (Sep 19, 2014 2:35 PM)