The U.S. military has deployed one of its huge hospital ships to Asia on a mission designed to build good will and also help prepare for responding to future disasters.
The ship is called the Mercy, and it is the same one that was deployed to help respond to the tsunami disaster in Asia last year. The ship, with its on-board hospital and operating rooms, and a military and civilian crew of doctors, nurses and other medical specialists, is first visiting the Philippines. Officials say it will also stop in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and East Timor.
The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Admiral Gary Roughead, says the deployment is designed to make a point about U.S. naval power, and how it can be used in peaceful ways.
"We are committed to bringing security and help and hope to those in need to our neighbors in the long-standing tradition of rendering assistance at sea, and assistance from the sea," said Admiral Roughead. "Hence, the Mercy deployment."
The chief medical officer on board the Mercy, Navy Captain Joseph Moore, says there is also a practical side to the mission. He says in addition to providing a variety of medical services to people in the countries it will visit, the five month mission will provide the Navy with valuable training and experience.
"The training that we get here, the training that we are able to do on an elective basis, will help us in responding more efficiently and effectively for natural disasters or man-made disasters in the future," said Captain Moore. "We will look at refining the supplies that we intend to bring, the personnel, the manning that we would hone into, as well as the training that we perform before, during and after events like this. All of those areas will all be improved in the future."
Captain Moore says last year's tsunami deployment had to be done quickly, with a fair amount of improvisation. But the staff treated more than 100,000 patients and performed more than 450 surgical procedures.
This goodwill mission by the hospital ship Mercy is designed to help ensure that the next time it is needed in an emergency, its crew will be even better prepared to deliver the needed medical care.