From capturing pirates to rescuing refugees, Lieut. Nicole Robichaud’s job definitely doesn’t count as a nine to five gig.
The lieutenant with the Canadian Navy, who is originally from Red Deer, recently received the Chief of the Defence Staff Commendation for her role in capturing pirates in the Gulf of Aden, near Somalia, on April 18, 2009.
Along with a certificate she received a gold bar with three maple leaves to be worn on her uniform.
Home for Christmas from Victoria, where she now lives, she talked on Sunday to the Advocate about her job and her mission along the African coast.
Robichaud, 35, was deployed with the HMCS Winnipeg from February to August of 2009 in a counter-piracy mission.
The waters around Somalia are known for attracting pirates, making the area so dangerous that insurance fees for ships going through the Gulf of Aden have skyrocketed.
On April 18, the HMCS Winnipeg was escorting a World Food Program ship to ensure it arrived at its destination securely, when the Canadian Navy received the call that a pirate vessel was attacking another ship.
The HMCS Winnipeg, along with its Sea King helicopter, came to the rescue as the pirates maneuvered wildly to escape.
Tracking the pirate boat was all the more difficult because it was in the middle of the night in pitch blackness.
Robichaud is trained as a maritime surface and sub-surface officer.
At the time of the pirate capture she was officer at the watch and was responsible for manoeuvering the ship around the pirate boat so that the HMCS Winnipeg’s weaponry and helicopter could be used in the pirate boat’s capture.
Canadian Navy personnel boarded the pirate vessel and took the weapons.
“It was a good sense of accomplishment,” Robichaud said.
It was one of seven or eight pirate boats that the HMCS Winnipeg managed to capture during its time in the Gull of Aden. Besides pirates, the Canadian Navy personnel also helped refugees whose boats had broken down or were in need of assistance.
Robichaud said as a child she never thought she would eventually be in the Canadian Navy, even though she was involved in the Red Deer Sea Cadets from her early teens into early adulthood. But she always said she never wanted to be stuck in an office.
Robichaud graduated from Lindsay Thurber High School and did a bachelor of science degree in forestry at the University of Alberta. She worked in the forestry field for a couple of years, when she had the chance as a cadet officer to do a three-month deployment to Japan, China and Korea. It was a different way of life and she liked being on the water.
She joined the Canadian Navy in 2002 and was posted to Victoria after finishing her basic training. Initially she served on the HMCS Vancouver before joining the HMCS Winnipeg in a two-year tour as a navigating officer.