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Navy Hospital ship Mercy leaves San Diego on Pacific humanitarian mission

The Navy hospital ship Mercy is on the way to the western Pacific on an annual humanitarian mission to help prepare and respond to natural and man-made disasters. KPBS military reporter Andrew Dyer has more.

The Navy hospital ship Mercy left San Diego Tuesday for a yearly humanitarian mission to help western Pacific Island nations prepare for natural and man-made disasters.

The mission, Pacific Partnership, was born out of the Navy's work in 2004 when an earthquake off the Indonesian coast led to a tsunami that devastated countries lining the Indian Ocean.

The ship will visit the Marshall and Solomon islands, Palau and Micronesia.


The San Diego-based Mercy is the lead ship on the mission, said Capt. Brian Quinn, the mission commander. In addition to medical assistance, other Navy units — such as Seabee construction crews — will participate in community infrastructure and outreach projects.

At almost 900 feet long, the Mercy began its life as a tanker before being reconstructed as a hospital ship. The ship carries two crews — the civilian Merchant Marines that conduct its maritime operations along with up to 1,200 sailors that comprise the hospital staff.

The ship has 1,000 patient beds and 80 intensive care beds along with 12 operating rooms.

A dummy and facsimile internal organs lay on an operating table in one of the USNS Mercy's 12 operating rooms Monday, Oct. 9. 2023.
Matt Bowler
A practice dummy complete with mock internal organs in one of the USNS Mercy's 12 operating rooms on Monday, Oct. 9, 2023.

Capt. Jeff Feinberg, a Navy doctor, is the hospital crew's commanding officer. He said there's not much that can be done on shore-based facilities that can't also be done on the Mercy.

"The only piece of medical equipment we are lacking is an MRI," Feinberg said. "An MRI is a giant magnet and (the Mercy) is a big steel box."


Feinberg said he expects the crew to conduct more than 450 surgeries over the next four months.

During last year's Pacific Partnership, the ship treated more than 15,000 patients including 372 surgeries, according to the Navy.

More than the medical help, Feinberg said, it's the training the crew does with local health care workers that makes the mission worthwhile.

"What we try to do is build these partnerships and communications in times of calm so if there's a humanitarian crisis — or any other crisis — we're ready to respond," Feinberg said.

The mission will keep the Mercy and its sailors at sea throughout the holidays.