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MSC ships sail to assist Nias Island earthquake victims

WASHINGTON (USTCNS) --- The U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy and MSC combat stores ship USNS Niagara Falls were ordered to get underway from East Timor to Nias Island, Indonesia, March 30 to provide disaster relief and humanitarian assistance following the 8.7 magnitude earthquake off the west coast of northern Sumatra March 28.

An additional 175 U.S. Navy medical and support personnel along with 40 non-governmental (NGO) personnel have been requested to augment the ship’s current combined crew of 337 U.S. Navy and NGO personnel and 65 MSC civil service mariners.

MSC combat stores ship USNS San Jose, en route to Guam after supporting humanitarian assistance operations in the region since Jan. 6, has also been directed to Nias Island. Four MH-60S Knighthawk helicopters from Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC) 5 detachments embarked on board Niagara Falls and San Jose will be used to transport relief supplies and patients in need of medical care to and from Mercy. MSC oiler USNS Tippecanoe will also be on hand to provide supply replenishment support to MSC ships in the area.

"The civilian mariners aboard Mercy, as well as those aboard Niagara Falls, San Jose and Tippecanoe, are continuing their support of Mercy’s onboard Medical Treatment Facility and of the medical staff gearing up to treat the patients in Nias that await them," said Mercy’s master Capt. Michael Leahy.

Mercy and Niagara Falls were in East Timor as part of a humanitarian aid mission being conducted as the hospital ship was en route back to her San Diego home when both ships were ordered to move towards Nias. During Mercy’s two-day visit to East Timor, the ship’s medical staff saw more than 1,800 patients. At a prior four-day stop in Alor, Indonesia, Mercy’s medical team saw more than 6,200 patients.

Mercy sailed from San Diego on Jan. 5 in response to the Dec. 26 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia. Operating off the coast of Banda Aceh from Feb. 6 to March 16, Mercy’s medical staff treated more than 9,500 patients ashore and afloat, performing 19,512 medical procedures including more than 285 surgical and operating room cases.

“We are returning to Sumatra to help our friends and neighbors in the Pacific in any way that we can.” said Capt. Mark Llewellyn, MC, USN, commanding officer of Mercy’s Medical Treatment Facility.

“From our first time in Sumatra doing tsunami relief, we feel connected to the wonderful people of Indonesia. We learned many things from our first trip here. One is that earthquakes and tsunamis can damage buildings and injure the body, but they cannot destroy the spirit of a community.”

Mercy is one of two hospital ships in the U.S. Navy. Mercy, Niagara Falls, San Jose and Tippecanoe are operated by federally employed, civilian mariners who work for Military Sealift Command.

MSC operates more than 120 noncombatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, chart ocean bottoms, conduct undersea surveillance, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military equipment and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces.

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