LUBEC, Maine — Residents of both Lubec and Eastport were a bit surprised late Tuesday afternoon when a Canadian warship, the HMCS Athabaskan, made an unannounced visit to Johnson Bay.
Neither U.S.Homeland Security officials nor the U.S. Coast Guard were informed of the ship’s entry into U.S. waters, according to a Coast Guard spokesman at the Eastport Coast Guard station.
“None of us here saw it coming or going,” Boatswain Mate First Class Terry Bailey said Wednesday. “We are supposed to be notified if a foreign ship intends to dock at our port, but not if it just comes into our waters.”
Robert Peacock of Eastport, who pilots the large cargo vessels into the port of Eastport, said seeing a Canadian ship in U.S. waters is fairly normal with the international border just yards from the coastline.
“Before 9-11 we used to see a lot more but they haven’t been around as much because they have been deployed steadily,” Peacock said. He added that international ships go through U.S. waters all the time but only need to notify the U.S. authorities if they are going to dock.
Peacock said he has seen the Athabaskan in Head Harbor Passage between Deer Island and Campobello Island in past years, with the most recent time about five years ago. “The Canadian ships come through all the time, mostly for training,” Peacock said.
Petty Officer Tim Crockett said Wednesday that he did see the ship while off duty on Tuesday but it was in Canadian waters when he spotted it. “We see Canadian Coast Guard boats all the time,” Crocker said, “but this is the first time I’ve seen one of the Canadian Navy ships.”
Several residents of Lubec and Eastport said they watched the ship, a 425-foot area air defense ship that carries both missiles and helicopters, come through Friar Roads, the waterway passage between Eastport and Campobello Island, and enter Johnson’s Bay at Lubec on the western, or inland U.S. side of a trio of islands — Treat Island, Dudley Island and Pope’s Folly.
Peacock guessed that the ship was unable to turn around on the Canadian side of Treat Island and instead crossed the territorial border to the U.S. side to do so. “It only sits in about 15 feet of water,” he said.
The international border runs along the eastern side of the islands in the center of the channel between Lubec and Campobello.
“This was a big boat,” North Lubec Road resident Peter Boyce said Wednesday. Boyce noted the ship’s number, 282, as he watched it in Johnson Bay at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday and later looked up information about the vessel on the Internet. “She kind of cruised around and then turned around. The whole visit took about 20 minutes.”
Boyce said the ship’s visit in Johnson Bay was the talk of the town Wednesday but local residents were intrigued rather than frightened that there might have been some kind of border security breach.
“If we had deeper water, it would have been great to have her tie up here at Lubec and offer some tours,” he said.
Several people apparently thought the ship was lost, but Douglas Bruce Wilson, also of North Lubec Road said that was unlikely.
“They knew within six inches of where they were,” he said, referring to the Canadian Navy’s sophisticated radar and other equipment.
Wilson said he looked at the visit as a unique opportunity for the U.S. to share its waters. “They are all out there protecting us,” he said.
Calls to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Royal Canadian Navy seeking information were not returned Wednesday.