Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, directed the activation of the hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) Nov. 13 to be ready to support ongoing disaster relief efforts in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
Berthed in San Diego, USNS Mercy has been in a reduced operating status, which is normal for a hospital ship. Harris’ activation order accelerates Mercy’s ability to attain full operating status to include moving necessary personnel and equipment to the ship.
If ordered to deploy, Mercy would get underway in the next several days and could arrive in the Philippines sometime in December, joining other U.S. Pacific Fleet units already supporting Operation Damayan.
On Nov. 11 Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) and her escort ships to depart early from a liberty port in Hong Kong and make best possible speed for the Philippines. George Washington, USS Antietam (CG 54), USS Cowpens (CG 63) and USNS Yukon (T-AO-202) will arrive off the coast of the Philippines the evening of Nov. 14 local time.
U.S. Pacific Fleet ships already operating in the Western Pacific were also immediately diverted. USS Mustin (DDG 89), USS Lassen (DDG 82), USS Emory S. Land (AS 39), and USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) are now on station and coordinating with the Philippine government. The U.S. Navy also has P-3 maritime aircraft already supporting the disaster relief effort led by the Government of the Philippines.
The amphibious ships USS Ashland (LSD 48) and USS Germantown (LSD 42) are departing Sasebo, Japan, Nov. 14 local time. After picking up Marines, equipment and relief supplies in Okinawa, the two ships will arrive at the Philippines in approximately one week. USS McCampbell (DDG 85) and USNS Charles Drew (T-AKE 10) are also heading to the Philippines.
This collection of ships and their complement of aircraft, to include much-needed helicopters, will provide food and water, the capability to move relief supplies to isolated areas, and to help move the badly injured for medical care.
The U.S. Navy persistently trains with numerous Pacific nations and military units, including the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to prepare for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions. In 2012, Mercy participated in the annual Pacific Partnership mission, which included working with Philippine authorities in the vicinity of Tacloban, the area hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan. Because of the long-standing partnership between the two nations, the U.S., working through the Philippine government, is able to rapidly respond with critically needed capabilities and supplies in times of crisis.
The role of U.S. military forces during any foreign humanitarian assistance event is to rapidly respond to host nations’ requests for support to help mitigate human suffering, prevent further loss of life and mitigate property damage. The U.S. Navy-Marine Corps team has a particularly successful history of working with international relief organizations and host nations to respond to natural disasters.
Operation Damayan is part of the broader U.S. Government effort to support the Government of the Philippines’s request for humanitarian assistance. This joint team effort includes coordination by the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, in constant consultation with Philippine authorities. To date, Philippine and U.S. personnel have transported more than 107,000 pounds of relief supplies.
Press Release, November 14, 2013; Image: US Navy