US Navy Hospital Ship Begins 2-Week Humanitarian Mission

The US Navy hospital ship Mercy anchored off Sihanoukville port last night, carrying more than 1,000 doctors, engineers and aid workers who will provide locals with free medical care during a two-week mission.

The operation is part of the US Navy’s Pacific Partnership 2010, a scheme to provide medical and development assistance to countries in Southeast Asia. The Cambodian leg of the mission will be launched at a ceremony at the port this morning, US Embassy officials said. The program “is about building relationships in the region…and building for the future,” according to embassy spokesman John Johnson.

Now in its fifth year, this is the first time Pacific Partnership has come to Cambodia. According to Mr Johnson, this is the largest hu­manitarian operation of its type ever conducted in the country. “On this scale, in this concentrated period of time, there hasn’t been anything like this before. It’s definitely a first,” he said.

The Military Sealift Command hospital ship—a 69,000-ton converted oil tanker—carries a crew of around 1,200, comprising of military medical and engineering personnel from the US and six partner nations, volunteers from eight international NGOs and the ship’s crew of 66 merchant sailors, according to embassy officials.

Doctors will work with local health care providers to run clinics in Preah Sihanouk, Ratanakkiri, Kompong Cham, Kompong Speu and Kampot provinces during the 13-day mission, according to a US Embassy statement. From Friday, surgeries will be conducted on­board, in the Mercy’s 12 operating rooms. Other projects will include digging water wells in remote communities and repairing hospitals’ aging medical equipment, Mr Johnson said.

The ministries of Health and Defense will jointly be responsible for coordinating with the mission.

Secretary of State for the Defense Ministry General Neang Phat will attend the ceremony this morning, according to an official in the ministry’s international relations department who asked not to be named as he was not authorized to speak to the media. The official said there have been many joint projects with the US military in the past—the most recent being a training exercise with the USS Tortuga due to conclude today—but that this was “the biggest so far.”

One of the NGOs conducting shipboard surgeries will be Oper­ation Smile. The organization, which treats people with facial deformities such as cleft palate, will carry out operations between June 18 and 21, according to Administrative Mana­ger Kimong Sok Vong.

“We are planning to do between 65 and 80 surgeries,” she said.

The Mercy will be supported on the Cambodian leg of her mission by the JMSDF Kunisaki, a Japanese Landing Ship, according to a Jap­anese Embassy statement.

The two ships have just completed the first stage of the 2010 Pacific Partnership program in Vietnam. During their 13-day stay, 132 surgeries were conducted aboard the Mercy and doctors saw almost 20,000 patients, according to US State Department and Navy figures.

Tomorrow, the ship will also deliver three stolen Cambodian antiquities that were recovered by US Customs and border protection agencies. The returned artifacts will officially be unveiled in a July 14 ceremony at the National Museum in Phnom Penh.

 

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