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No way to run a Navy.

There was no bos'n on hand to pipe them aboard. Armed with a court order, Defence Department officials quietly boarded HMCS Kootenay and Restigouche at Esquimalt last month to determine if they had unwittingly sold an ASROC-rocket launcher to a convicted American felon.

Decommissioned in December 1994, the ships were declared surplus and subsequently sold for scrap to Miami businessman Rick Crawford for $226,111 on 3 December 1998. A week later, Crawford, who required a special ministerial permit to enter the country, was stopped at the border when he told customs officials that he was coming to Canada to buy a couple of destroyers. "They didn't like my story, so they ran a secondary check," he told a reporter in a telephone interview from his home in Florida. They discovered that he had a criminal record of six or seven pages including a conviction for writing a worthless cheque. His record also includes assault, fraud, weapons charges and resisting arrest. "I'm a person with a strong belief about what government should and should not do," he said. "I do what I believe is right."

Obviously a man of principle, Crawford refused to return the launcher and would not even allow naval officers onto the ships to take an inventory of the equipment they had left behind. He expressed safety concerns about their procedures.

Kootenay and Restigouche were laid down between 1952 and 1954 and commissioned in 1958. Displacing 2,900 tonnes and each carrying a crew of 214, they were originally armed with a 6.3" gun, torpedoes and Limbo mortars. In 1966, they were converted to carry the American ASROC missile system, a 2.76mm forward gun and a .70-calibre anti-aircraft gun linked to a computer and capable of tracking aircraft at supersonic speeds. They were also fitted with variable depth sonar and prominent lattice masts. In 1966, Kootenay was fitted with a powerful diesel generator, a torpedo countermeasures suite, an electronic warfare system and a computer-assisted data-link system. The ships underwent DELEX (Destroyer Life Extension Program) modernization in 1986 when they received new radar, communications and fire control systems, as well as ULQ jammers and four Mk 36 chaff launchers. Restigouche was upgraded again in 1991 for the Persian Gulf War and participated in the enforcement of an international blockade in the Red Sea.

Crawford claims that he knew when he was buying the ships that DND had not taken off all the military equipment. "It was not discovered by mistake," he said. "Before I bought them, I asked several times: `Are you sure you are going to include this stuff in the sale?'" In addition to the ASROC launcher, he found military manuals, unopened boxes of parts and documents stamped "Confidential." When he told DND about the documents, the Department advised him to ignore the confidential stamp because the documents had probably been declassified.

An Immigration official would not comment, for privacy reasons, on Crawford's status while he was in Canada negotiating the deal. "A person with a criminal record may not be admitted into Canada without special permission," George Varnai, the B.C. regional manager for Immigration, told reporters. "A ministerial permit for someone with a record is not unusual, although it does not happen every day." A DND spokesman, Lt David McKinnon, would not comment on whether the Department knew about Crawford's criminal record, but confirmed that it solicited a permit on his behalf. The Defence Department acted on his behalf because he was the registered owner of the ships, McKinnon said. "We needed his help to get on with the work."

Despite the embarassment, DND has its defenders. "DND looks a little foolish in this which I think is a little unfair," Tex Enemark of the Artificial Reef Society of B.C. remarked. The society had bought four decommissioned ships in the past from DND which it sank in order to create artificial reefs for scuba divers. Some of the vessels were sunk with military equipment aboard after the weaponry had been rendered useless. The group had talked with DND about acquiring Kootenay and Restigouche but could not raise the necessary funds, Mr. Enemark said. He speculated that DND might not have removed the equipment because it anticipated that the ships were going to the Artifical Reef Society.

Unfortunately, they weren't. While DND was forced to go to court to reclaim the ASROC launcher, Crawford became embroiled in a dispute with his backers. Two U.S companies and an unnamed American citizen maintain that he was acting as their agent, while he claims that he borrowed money from them but was acting on his own. As part of that dispute, the Federal Court of Canada ordered the resale of the ships, effective 15 December. They were subsequently sold to United Parts of Florida and Rody Truck Centre Corporation.

The final destination of Kootenay and Restigouche is unclear. Rumours abound that the military equipment left on board was to be sold to India or Pakistan which have destroyers of similar design. That sale would have violated a ban on military sales to both countries, imposed in the spring of 1998.

DND now estimates that the process of removing the ASROC launchers and other military equipment from the destroyers may take up to a month and cost about $350,000 -- considerably more than it received for the ships.

Artificial reef, anyone?
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Author:Twatio, Bill
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Date:Jan 1, 2000
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