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Fire-damaged HMCS Protecteur endures broken tow line as it limps to Hawaii

A Sea Hawk helicopter prepares to unload materials aboard HMCS Protecteur off the coast of Hawaii on Saturday, March 1, 2014. The fire-damaged ship, after enduring a snapped tow line, is being towed to dry dock in Hawaii.

Johans Chavarro/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canadian navy ship HMCS Protecteur was about 400 kilometres northeast of Pearl Harbor on Monday afternoon after towing operations resumed for the aging vessel, which was damaged in a fire.

The navy said in a news release that weather conditions had improved in the Pacific Ocean since Sunday, when a tow line broke, and that damaged vessel was now being towed toward Hawaii at a speed of about nine kilometres per hour.

Protecteur endured an engine-room fire last Thursday that caused minor injuries to 20 sailors who were attempting to douse the flames.

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"It is anticipated that USS Michael Murphy, which has been providing assistance to Protecteur up to this pint, is expected to detach from the scene and proceed back to Pearl Harbor with family members and civilians."

Nearly 300 people were on the vessel, including 17 family members who were allowed to join the crew on its return leg to Esquimalt, B.C., a common practice after a long mission. They are between 14 and 73 years old.

"We remain in close contact with HMCS Protecteur and continue to provide the required support to the crew on board as well as the family members," the navy said.

"Family members in Canada continue to receive daily briefings by senior staff through the Military Family Resource Centre."

A team of military personnel were headed to Pearl Harbor to provide support to families and crew members and to deal with the ship, the navy said.

A damage assessment will be done before Protecteur is brought home to Esquimalt and an investigation into the cause of the fire is being initiated, said the navy.

Lieutenant-Commander Desmond James at CFB Esquimalt, located on Vancouver Island west of Victoria, said earlier Monday that the aging vessel was being towed through heavy seas on Sunday when the tow line broke.

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"Towing operations are hard enough but you've got these big war ships and they're being tossed around in the water, pushed left, pushed right, up, down, back and forth. That really puts a strain on the tow line."

LCdr. James said the USS Sioux, a deep-water ocean tug, has taken over towing duties and the slow return to dry dock in Hawaii, about 600 kilometres southwest, had resumed.

The 44-year-old vessel was in the Pacific Ocean, north of Hawaii, when the fire broke out.

Commodore Bob Auchterloine, the commander of the navy's Pacific fleet, has said sailors suffered dehydration, exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

He said a doctor on board provided treatment.

The 172-metre Protecteur was damaged last August in a collision with HMCS Algonquin while en route to Hawaii.

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Algonquin sustained most of the damage, but Protecteur's front end was damaged. Both ships were forced to cancel a voyage to Australia and return to port in Esquimalt for repairs.

Last October, the military announced Protecteur, along with its sister ship HMCS Preserver, on the East Coast, will be retired in 2015.

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