The MERCY last deployed with COMFORT during the 1991 Gulf War. The time is now for them to serve together off of Haiti. official U.S. Navy photo.

The MERCY last deployed with COMFORT during the 1991 Gulf War. The time is now for them to serve together off of Haiti. official U.S. Navy photo.

Situation is critical on COMFORT according to the Baltimore Sun’s Robert Little. His article today entitled “Comfort’s Ability to Help Stretched to Limit: Too many need attention for ship to take them all” is a must read. Excerpts include:

…The largest and most capable hospital in Haiti today, the Comfort is reaching its breaking point…

The ship’s space and supplies are overtaxed, forcing the crew to contemplate declining new admissions. The injuries are so abundant and severe that an otherwise acceptable caseload is unmanageable, forcing providers to choose between declining care and forgoing rest and food…

…”Even if every day we could have a critical-care flight of 20 patients out of here, we wouldn’t be able to keep up,” said Capt. Andrew Johnson, the ship’s director of medical operations.

That reality, Johnson said, is forcing the medical staff to consider declining care to some critically injured patients, if only to free up room and resources that could be used to save more people.

…Already the ship is caring for more burn patients and premature infants, for instance, than it can handle. It has run out of breathing ventilators, and incubators for sick babies. The operating rooms are on a 24-hour schedule…

…Capt. Jim Ware, commander of the ship’s medical facility, said the Comfort has cared for more patients in the last five days than it did during all of the two wars in Iraq. With a patient population of more than 400 and a staff and crew of more than 1,000, it has been transformed, in less than a week, from a dormant hospital floating in Baltimore into one of the busiest U.S. Department of Defense medical facilities in the world.

Full article here.

Yes, I know about the tyranny of distance from San Diego to Port-au-Prince. According to, it would be a 5,281 mile voyage taking some 11 days.

Yes, I know the MERCY is presently at a shipyard in San Francisco through the beginning of March.

Yes, I know that it is manpower intensive. Call-up reservists and guardsmen. You know how to reach me. (I would make a great blogger/social media guru aboard MERCY).

Have Project Hope recruit more volunteers! Recruit personnel from across the inter-agency. Get our coalition partners involved. Hire contractors.

Yes, I know it would require a backfill in the Pacific.

Yes, I know it is expensive. Hold another tele-a-thon.

Yes, it would require lots of supplies.

I was hoping I would never have to write this post.

Just as the Haiti earthquake confirmed my calls for a larger fleet of hospital ships, Little’s article left me with no choice to urge the activation of the USNS Mercy.

God Speed MERCY!

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Foreign Policy, Navy

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  • pk


    its not as bad as you think. the worst part of the project is the guys that say you can’t do it. it can be done and probably quite easily. it simply takes the political will to do it. as buzz aldrin said, once the decision is made going to the moon is simply an interesting engineering problem.

    as you should know by now i was active in the reactivation of two battleships during the 80’s (lord knows i have babbled enough about it.) and we found a couple of interesting things.

    at the start there was a terriffic hugh and cry about manning the ships. we expected that the navy would need upwards of 25,000 men to staff the 4 ships. wasn’t really a problem as old timers came out of the woodwork to do the job. as a matter of fact we had an excess of certain rates (gunners mates as i remember) enlisting and putting in transfer chits for the ships.

    then we heard that the modern snipes could not run the propulsion plants, but you know they could and did and were proud to do it. of course we won’t mention those hundreds of beautiful little steam turbines that we replaced with 1-5 hp electric motors, but whats that amoung friends.

    these two ships are converted tankers. that means the sailing crew will be about 1/10 what a navy ship would be. the problems will be in the medical side. but that bunch is notorious liberals that have a habit of telling us what we should be doing for the downtrodden. well tell them to put their money and their sweat where their mouth is.

    with money and a wink and a nod from someone with a really stiff sleeve i would say mercy could get underway in about a month. of course that could be way to late but nobody consulted us on the earthquake schedule.



    Now that we have forces on the ground, why not set up a Fleet Hospital Ashore? Or facititate (logistics, security, etc) the International Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, or any of the myriad of other agencies, to set up their assistance. Once we have a secure point available ashore, using a hospital ship just complicates the transport problem (which was why the COMFORT and MERCY didn’t get much use during military operations), and we can get a Fleet Hospital there in a lot less time.
    If nothing else, there is a ship with equipment for a fleet hospital, as well as an expeditionary airfield and equipment for SEABEEs, prepositioned with every MPS squadron. They could be in place much sooner than the Mercy.

  • Actually there are reports that the dry dock work has been cancelled and the shipyard employees laid off, as the ship may be pulled out early from the work being done.

    See comments here:

    and more here:

  • Jim Dolbow

    @ all: great contributions to knowledge by all in the comments section.

    @pk belated BZ on reactivating the battleships. I agree time to put everyone’s money where their mouth is.

    @usnvo do you know of any plans to put a fleet hospital ashore? totally agree about the MPS with the heavy equipment

    @Andrew & penguin thanks for the updates. Keep them coming – much appreciated

  • pk

    the thing about having a “hospital ship” there is that the ship could be expected to have all of the dumb little details in place. there is no doubt that a ship in the harbor at anchor has much less of a problem of the important equipment and supplies “evaporating”.

    yestereday morning one of the LA radio stations was interviewing a doctor in haiti and he was complaining that the donated xray machine had no film, film holders, developing equipment….. and was probably set up for 50cycle electricity.

    the stuff on a ship works and the supporting stuff is in the locker because the technician checked it.

    besides giant white ships with two acre american flags flying at the stern make up for a lot of helicopter trips.


  • leesea

    First off lets NOT take all the Balto Sun reporter says a factual! That paper has been openly critical of hospital ships for years. If Baltimoreans don’t like the ship, why not move it to NORVA where all the perishablbes etc are stored and where there are more CIVMARs to crew it? (want to hear some congressional types whine!)

    Secondly the ADCON plan for TAH class uses active duty for first staffing and reserves to backfill stateside MTFs. I bet that will happen or maybe even be reversed to get the full MTF staff complement on the ship?

    Third, I thought the USNS Lummus and a follow on MPS has/would be hauling down more cargo i.e. gear? BUT the FH and EAF cargo is NOT on every MPS it was intended for the 3 MPF-E ships. FH in particular takes up a lot of TEU and Ro/Ro space (I know from 1st hand experience). There is a lot of that Naval Expeditionary Medicine equipment at Cheatham Annex. So wathc for one of the RRF ships to stop by there.

    USNVO I think they will set up a Fleet Hospital ashore WHEN they find the 22 acres it takes up and get the equipment and Seabees needed to set it up.


    I agree that the footprint for a fleet hospital is large but now that forces are on scene, it would not be too difficult to find 22 acres (or even 50-60 acres when you add in the various support infrastructure, security, etc).
    While there are benefits of having a ship (reduced infrastructure ashore, ready made security, all in one packaging, better photo ops, etc) The benefits of the Fleet Hospital are even better:
    – Easier access to patients
    – Easier coordination with other medical facilities. You could even set up in the same compound with civilian aid agencies and then gradually phase out the Fleet Hospital as the civilian assets become able to meet the need. You could even turn over the vast bulk of the equipment to the civilian side as you leave, can’t do that with a ship.
    – Normal resupply becomes easier as you restore infrastructure.
    – Easier transition to health care focus from emergency surgery.
    – Easier integration of Haitians into your organization to build HN capability. You could gradually employ Haitians in virtually all the support roles like stretcher bearers, cleaning, etc. This would both reduce military manpower and employ local people.
    – It’s modular, you can readily increase capacity or change capacities. Not so easy on a ship, usually what you have is what you have.
    The FH, EAF, and SEABEE gear is not on every ship in the MPS squadron, (so it is not on LUMMUS) but conveniently it is all together on the same ship in the squadron. And it is a lot of stuff which was why they used LMSRs for the three MPS-E ships. So your SEABEE gear arrives with the Fleet Hospital. A win-win.

  • leesea

    USNVO we are in agreement about FHs, it appears the largest is now 250 bed which might be easier to set up?
    You are wrong about MPF-E, I worked the project. They were NOT based on LMSRs. All three originally used merchant container-Ro/Ro ships. USNS Martin and USNS Wheat. Unfortunately the second ship being a Ukranian built gas turbine Ro/Ro turned out to be far harder than NAVSEA guessed and went way over budget. Then NAVSEA threw another $22 mil at the project and MSC converted the USNS Soderman into the USNS Stockham. Not a good solution but surely expedient.

    Since the USNS Lummus was empty they loaded her with everything they could to include Army, Marine, Navy, USAID, FEMA etc etc cargo. The ship apparently did not have FH containers on it (probably not called fwd yet)?

    So watch to see if one of the RRF ships goes to CAX to load FH and Seabee and CHB cargo FFT to PaP.

  • pk

    two things:

    in haiti the more the civilians mix in the grounds/work areas the greater the “evaporation problem”.

    also turning over the hospital to the locals when we leave. can the locals support a modern 2010 hospital or will it fairly rapidly go moribund. modern hospitals are EXPENSIVE to operate.

    we see a common thread with the third world countries that want for their railroads modern diesel locomotives (that they have to import everything for including fuel, lubricating oils as well as repair parts) as an indication of status where their level of technology actually supports coal burning steam locomotives designed and built a century ago.



    No question that operating with locals is a challenge, but it ultimately pays dividends since it is their country after all. Additionally, if the local knowledge does not support use of the equipment and you so desired, you could turn the equipment over to the UN/NGOs that could use it. Given sufficient training and time, the locals can learn to use it.
    The really expensive part of this operation is the people and the more we can move that part to the Hatians/UN/NGOs, the better.

  • Navigator

    leesea and USNVO:

    pardon the question, but a survey of the SAT photos on Google Maps shows a large (about 3X4 km) area of agricultural land about 8-10 km WNW of Port-au-Prince that looks like it could accommodate a large complex like a field hospital. Further WNW (about 3km more) along route 1/100 there’s an even larger area available.

    I don’t see a space problem, though it would probably require a certain amount of clearing (and watch out, the rainy season is coming). Looks like there’d be space for tent cities too…

    11 days for transit (and USS Mercy is not ready in SF) is a long time, though worth it. But any sea transport available to bring more East Coast medical assets?

    So does everyone still have the question on his mind: who the heck is in charge? The national government can’t handle it and everyone else is still too PC to finally let one boss command the operation without having to spend hours soothing someone’s ego?


    Not having walked the ground, but given the priority and sovereign domain from the Haitian government, I would say finding the space for a full up Fleet Hospital on shore shouldn’t be a problem. Figuring out who is in charge is another issue.

    Simply put, the Haitian Government is in charge (since this is Haiti) and the UN has the lead on aid assistance. Add in the NGOs and who knows who can, must, or is willing to make decisions. Clearly it is a chaotic situation with no single person in charge. On the US side, State and USAID has the lead. from a previous post on this Blog,
    “On January 15, the Administrator appointed Ambassador Lewis Lucke as Coordinator for Disaster Response and Reconstruction in Haiti , with overall responsibility for managing USG support for the disaster relief and reconstruction effort on the ground and coordination with our partners in Haiti . He is based at the Humanitarian Assistance Combined Coordination Center established to coordinate relief and reconstruction efforts with the U.S. military, UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti , Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Department of State (DOS), NGOs, Government of Haiti, and foreign governments.”

    Obviously he needs a better PAO and he and his people are probably being run ragged.

  • Navigator

    An interesting LIFE magazine article which appeared in 1959 for a ‘New Great White Fleet’ along the lines of what has been discussed here and in a previous blog item. The URL is a little long but it goes straight to the article which you can read in full.

  • Chic Sale

    Any negative responses to the article are worthless and irresponsible.

    We have the capability and the available hulls to have more hospital ships. Someone is simply not listening, and it is reprehensible.

  • popeye

    I have no inside knowledge about what is or is not occurring aboard the Comfort..but I do know this.

    The mercy is not laid up she’s standing by. She’s scheduled for a deployment this year to the Pacific rim. She’s in preparation for that mission right now.

    The USNS Mercy has been deployed since the Gulf war in 1991. Several times in fact.

    The Mercy deployed as recently as September 2008 & 2006.

    For hundreds of photos of the US Navy activity in Haiti follow the link below. Just type Haiti in the search box on the top right side of the page.

    Big Daddy Popeye making corrections and assisting the “navally challenged” on line since 1999.

  • CorpseManUp

    I concure with popeye. As the attached article states – the Mercy will be deployed to the Pacific Rim. She will be crewed by a myriad of MSC, Active Duty Navy, Navy Reserve, Army, Air Force, and US Public Health Service personnel. She will also take on various NGO’s and civilians for her Pacific Partnership 2010 mission.

    “Soft-Power” is the game now. It’s a different world, and the Navy is adapting to it to become “a global force for good,” as the commercials state.

  • UltimaRatioReg

    Well, CorpseMan,

    “Soft-Power” is the game now?

    Be sure to tell Red China.

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