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Civilians aboard Protecteur arrive in Hawaii

Civilians aboard Protecteur arrive in HawaiiA Sea Hawk helicopter prepares to unload materials aboard HMCS Protecteur off the coast of Hawaii, Saturday, March 1, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, U.S. Navy-Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Johans Chavarro

ESQUIMALT, B.C. - Family members and civilian contractors who were on board a Canadian Navy supply ship when it caught fire in the Pacific Ocean have landed safely in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The Department of National Defence said Tuesday the group had arrived aboard the USS Michael Murphy, one of several U.S. Navy ships that went to aid the HMCS Protecteur.

A fire in the engine room five days ago injured several navy personnel and left the Canadian vessel adrift in the open ocean. Twenty navy personnel suffered minor injuries.

Nearly 300 people were on the vessel, including 19 family members who were allowed to join the crew on its return trip — a common practice for crews returning from long missions.

"We signed on for an adventure, and we got one," Arlene Veenhof told reporters after stepping off the destroyer.

She said she was playing cards when the lights went off, and she heard a fire alarm a few minutes later. She and other passengers initially thought it was a drill.

Cmdr. Al Harrigan of Maritime Forces Pacific said the ship was being used as a refuelling vessel on its way home from a three- to four-week deployment.

The Protecteur is being towed back to the U.S. naval base in Hawaii by the deep-water ocean tug USS Sioux and is expected to arrive Thursday. The effort to tow the aging vessel was complicated by rough seas, which caused the tow line to break on Sunday, the navy said.

"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," said Lt. Cmdr. Desmond James at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, the headquarters of Maritime Forces Pacific on Vancouver Island.

A doctor on board treated the sailors who suffered injuries ranging from dehydration to exhaustion and smoke inhalation. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Navy officials said the Protecteur will be repaired in Hawaii and returned to its home port in Esquimalt.

The 45-year-old Protecteur was damaged last August in a collision with another navy ship en route to Hawaii, and the military announced in October that it will be retired next year.

- With files from The Associated Press in Pearl Harbor

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