Hospital Ship Comfort Departs to South America
gCaptain's blog tells us:
In some of the most positive military news of recent memory we get
word of preparations being made aboard the USNS Comfort for tomorrow's departure on a humanitarian mission to South America. The
mission was announced by President Bush on March 7th as a plan to
continue the success of the vessel's sister ship USNS Mercy that deployed in 2005 for a humanitarian mission to aid survivors of the massive tsunami in SE Asia. Since March the crew has been busy traveling from their homeport in Baltimore to drydock in Boston and the Navy base in Norfolk.
A Navy Press Release tells us:
"Planning for this mission has incorporated various
non-government organizations and government agencies, such as Operation
Smile, Project Hope, the Atlanta Rotary Club, U.S. Air Force, U.S.
Coast Guard, and U.S. Health and Human Services. This is truly a joint
military/civilian operation," said Capt. Bob Kapcio, Comfort’s mission
Scheduled to remain in the region through September, the Comfort
will visit Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana,
Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago.
While the primary mission of the ship is provide an "afloat, mobile, acute- surgical medical facility to the U.S. military that
is flexible and capable of supporting expeditionary warfare" she is no
stranger to those in need of comfort. In September 2001 she visited New
York Harbor for Operation Noble Eagle and in 2005 she arrived in New Orleans to support relief operations after Hurricane Katrina. She has also served as a training ship
for medical professionals and was decorated for service in both Gulf
Wars. When fully manned she has the distinction of being the fifth
largest trauma centers in the U.S. and, in return for accepting "all
comers" is protected by the Geneva Convention.
Like all MSC
ships, the Comfort is operated by civilian mariners while the Navy
provides medical personnel to take care of the casualties.
National Defense Magazine provides us with some interesting details:
Keeping them ready is no easy task. The Comfort is as
long as three football fields and as tall as a 10-story building,
almost as big as an aircraft carrier. Within this space, she has 12
operating rooms, 1,000 hospital beds, physical-therapy facilities, a
burn intensive-care unit, a frozen blood bank, an infectious-disease
ward, even a morgue.
The Comfort is painted a brilliant white, with nine huge red crosses
placed all over her hull, rather than the battleship gray of most Navy
ships, in order to make it easier for enemy ships to recognize its
The Comfort is one of two hospital ships now serving in the Navy
fleet. The other one is the USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), based in San Diego.
Both were originally built as supertankers in the 1970s, but were
converted for medical use by the National Steel and Shipbuilding Co.,
of San Diego, and delivered in 1987 to the MSC.
The concept of a hospital ship is not new. The Spanish Armada, in
the 16th century, had one. The United States had 12 during World War
II. The Navy retired the last two of these at the end of the Vietnam
War. But subsequent events—such as the bombing of the U.S. embassy in
Beirut and the U.S. invasion of Grenada, both in 1983— suggested the
need for a new generation of hospital ships.
The Comfort and Mercy are maintained in reduced-operating status (ROS), at their homeports, on standby to sail within
five days of notification. While on ROS, the ships have only small
crews. The Comfort, for example, has 58 Navy personnel and 18 civilian
mariners on board, explained her civilian captain, Master Mariner Dean
Bradford, in a tour of his vessel. Read More...
While bloggers have voiced some legitimate concerns, here & here, I am glad to see some positive news from the pentagon and
the opportunity for U.S. mariners to participate in a proactive mission
of goodwill. I only wish to have the opportunity to sail on a vessel
that has provided comfort to such a large number of people in need.
For more on this story, including photos and links, visit gCaptian's story:
John Konrad is a USCG licensed Master Mariner of Unlimited Tonnage currently working as Chief Mate aboard a 865′ ship in the Gulf of Mexico. Since graduating from SUNY Maritime College he has sailed in 4 of the worlds oceans and reports from his ship via satellite.