Canso officer with ties to New Glasgow crucial in seizing 132 kg of heroin

Published on April 15, 2014
Lieutenant (Navy) William Corbett, a MARS officer, supervises the launching of the ship’s zodiac on board HMCS Regina during Operation Artemis counter-terrorism and maritime security operations off the coast of Africa on March 12. Cpl. Michael Bastien, MARPAC Imaging Services

NEW GLASGOW - William Corbett of Canso remembers his first time on a Canadian navy ship when he was a sea cadet. 

“That little sail on a Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel left an impression on me,” he said. “It turned me on to the navy.”

Now, a little over a decade after that first sail, Lieutenant (Navy) Corbett is in charge of all aspects of seamanship onboard HMCS Regina, a frigate in the Royal Canadian Navy.

While he grew up in Canso, Corbett’s stepfather Addison Underwood was from New Glasgow.

“I spent a few summers in Pictou County. I did some lobster fishing with my stepdad.”

His enjoyment of life on the seas made it easy for him to choose his career path. After high school, he enrolled in the Royal Military College and completed a bachelor’s degree in business. Some of his classmates were skeptical about a career in the navy.

“They saw it as a crazy thing to do, but it opened some people’s eyes just seeing the possibilities.”

He was posted to Victoria where he learned the basics of being a maritime surface and subsurface (MARS) officer. It was time to put his training to work when he was posted to the supply ship HMCS Protecteur, where he’d serve for 2 1/2 years.

“It was a great opportunity for the training,” said Corbett of the ship. “Because of the design of the ship, its steam engine and the fact it’s not as manoeuvrable was a real test for me.”

Protecteur, one of the oldest ships in the Royal Canadian Navy, has been in service since 1968.

While on board, Corbett participated in a three-month trip to South America, stopping in Chile, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico and San Diego in California.

He found out in May 2013 while on course in Halifax that he would be posted to HMCS Regina, one of the navy’s frigates.

Onboard, he’s the seamanship officer for the ship as it continues Canada’s participation in Operation Artemis, the Canadian Armed Forces’ current contribution to counter-terrorism and maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea. He was responsible for the ship’s readiness as it prepared for its assignment.

“My big focus is when we’re leaving, to make sure we’re good to go.”

While onboard, Corbett is responsible for the two zodiacs and a ridged hull inflatable boat (RHIB) and delivering orders and instructions for his department.

“I’m the head of the deck department and subject matter expert for seamanship, replenishment at sea, recovery of boats and when we’re coming in alongside,” he said. “It’s primarily the seamanship side not the the war side.”

Corbett was on call March 31 when the ship intercepted a small fishing boat called a dhow. The boarding team sprang to action and he oversaw the launching of the boats. It was not a drill and no false alarm. The crew seized and destroyed 132 kg of heroin from drug runners.

“It’s what the ship is here to do, we spent months and months of training,” said Corbett. “The entire ship has been working really hard and having this first drug bust under our belt raises morale.”

He said it’s hard to say if the ship will intercept any more drugs. Nonetheless, the ship will continue to sail around looking for opportunities to board vessels to limit narcotics and protect legitimate shipping.

While Corbett hasn’t been back to New Glasgow in quite a while, he still tries to visit his family in Canso. His posting, and fiancée in Victoria, make the trip east challenging.

“I talk to my fiancée and parents quite a bit. But along with operation, the paper work never ends,” said Corbett.

While he occasionally gets homesick, he feeling more at home on the sea as time goes on.

“You get used to it and you keep going with the flow.”