News of a major drug bust off the coast of Central America has been making the rounds in Brandon.
Kingston-class maritime defence ship HMCS Brandon was behind the seizure of approximately $55 million in illicit drugs.
The ship was named after the Wheat City and maintains a bond with the city to this day.
Its official sponsor was Brandon’s own Betty Coleman, a community steward in many respects who played a central role in establishing the city’s link with the ship.
She undertook a medically assisted death following an inoperable injury she suffered during a fall that limited her mobility.
She spent her final years on Vancouver Island, close to Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, where the HMCS Brandon is ported when it’s not deployed.
George Haggarty was on the commission committee that helped establish the city’s link with the ship in 1999, and said the effort was kicked off by the contribution of a barbecue, a ship’s bell and pictures to adorn the ship.
Every year, he said Coleman would give sailors a Christmas gift, which would include things like a City of Brandon coffee mug.
"She was great that way," he said.
Brandon Salutes member-at-large Brian Midwinter was also on the original commissioning committee, and said subsequent years found crew members from the HMCS Brandon visit the Wheat City on a number of occasions.
They helped with a Habitat for Humanity build and contributed toward a meal program at local schools.
It’s a "tremendous honour to have a warship named after you as a city," Midwinter said, adding this is why it’s so important the link be maintained.
This is also why the crew’s successes are celebrated locally.
The drug seizure took place March 21, according to a report by Department of National Defence public affairs officer Capt. Sarah Harasymchuk.
The ship was patrolling its assigned area of operations as part of Operation CARIBBE — Canada’s participation in the U.S.-led enhanced counter-narcotics operation in the Caribbean Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean.
A suspicious "go-fast" vessel was spotted, which the HMCS Brandon was well positioned to intercept.
Two rigid hull inflatable boats with members of the U.S. Coast Guard on board were launched from the HMCS Brandon.
According to Harasymchuk, the suspected smugglers were seen jettisoning what appeared to be multiple bales of contraband, which were later recovered.
Warning shots were fired, followed by the incapacitation of the vessel’s motors via disabling fire.
"This is an example of what the Navy can do for Canada," HMCS Brandon commanding officer Lt.-Com. Maude Oullet-Savard said, according to Harasymchuk’s report. "It’s a mission that demonstrates the navy’s capability in a tangible way and creates real results that we can all be proud of."
This pride extends to Brandon, where an effort is being made to recognize the ship’s efforts.
The official sponsor role Coleman held is non-transferrable, but this doesn’t mean the link ends, Midwinter said.
"We truly do miss her, but the connection with the ship is important — it’s an honour," he said. "It’s been as robust a relationship as these things can be given time and distance."
There are "several people" currently involved in trying to fill Coleman’s very big shoes, he added.
"The connection we had with the ship through Betty — the whole West Coast fleet was just in awe."
Midwinter is currently drafting a proclamation he hopes to see Mayor Rick Chrest sign. Although its nuances have yet to be hashed out, it will strive to recognize the efforts of the HMCS Brandon. From there, he hopes to see more done locally to affirm the city’s connection to the ship.
"I think the navy is interested, but there are some challenges we need to overcome," he said.
The pandemic has limited discretionary spending that might go toward things like crew trips to Brandon.
Correspondence campaigns remain a possibility, he said, adding this is always an effective way of boosting the effort.
"You get kids involved and there’s an immediate connection with the crew."
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB