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U.S. Navy civilian-crewed ships support tsunami relief

WASHINGTON, (USTCNS) --- Eleven non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships from the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command are supporting Operation Unified Assistance -- the United States' humanitarian relief response to the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia Dec. 26. Ordinarily, these ships and more than 100 other MSC-operated ships move equipment and supplies to deployed U.S. war fighters or serve in other military support roles. But when the forces of nature ravaged Indonesia and its outlying areas, selected MSC ships were called to duty to help in tsunami relief efforts.

The hospital ship USNS Mercy, with one of the nation's largest trauma centers on board, was activated from reduced operating status in San Diego on Jan. 1 and underway five days later. The 894-foot ship is underway in the tsunami-affected area with 275 military medical personnel embarked, enough to staff about a quarter of the ship's 1,000-hospital bed capacity. The ship will serve as an enabling platform for relief efforts. Nongovernmental agencies are a key part of the ongoing efforts, and Mercy's support of the work performed by these organizations is still being developed.

Three Maritime Prepositioning Ships, also operated by MSC, are in the tsunami-affected region, ready to offer assistance. Two of the three ships are currently providing fresh water, clearing debris and distributing relief supplies to the Republic of Maldives. These ships usually help the U.S. Marine Corps respond rapidly in a crisis by strategically placing combat equipment and supplies at sea. The ships are laden with Marine Corps equipment, food, fuel, medical supplies, construction and road building equipment, electrical power generating equipment, airfield matting, a Navy field hospital and Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units. Each Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit can produce 600 gallons of potable water per hour from sea water.

Four MSC underway replenishment ships are currently supporting Operation Unified Assistance. This includes fast combat support ship USNS Rainier, which is providing underway replenishment of fuel, food and other supplies to the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, a major contributor to the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. Two combat stores ships -- USNS San Jose and USNS Concord -- are in the tsunami-affected area providing fuel, food and other supplies to several U.S. Navy ships in the region. USNS Tippecanoe, a fleet replenishment oiler, is replenishing Navy ships at sea to enable them to remain underway on their missions for extended periods of time.

MSC's 208-foot oceanographic survey ship, USNS John McDonnell, is operating near the disaster area and will conduct hydrographic surveys. The ship uses a sophisticated sonar system to map the ocean floor. This data is critical in making the region's water safe for ocean shipping and transit.

Two MSC-chartered high-speed vessels have also been designated to assist relief efforts in Southeast Asia. In addition to speed, the HSVs have a shallow draft, which makes them ideal for transit in coastal waters. The 331-foot WestPac Express, an HSV chartered for the III Marine Expeditionary Force, is now providing shuttle service within the affected area. HSV-2 Swift, a 316-foot ship chartered for Mine Warfare Command, is currently in transit to Southeast Asia.

Today MSC operates nearly 140 noncombatant, civilian-crewed ships around the world, with many of them supporting the global war on terrorism. MSC ships replenish Navy ships at sea, chart ocean bottoms, conduct undersea surveillance, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move 95 percent of military equipment and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces.

Office of Public Affairs - transcom-pa@mail.mil
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