PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii – The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet yesterday directed the activation of USNS Mercy to prepare the hospital ship for possible deployment to the Philippines.
Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. directed the activation to accelerate Mercy's ability to attain full operating status in case it’s needed to support the ongoing Operation Damayan relief effort in the typhoon-ravaged island nation, officials said.
The activation order includes moving necessary personnel and equipment to the ship, which is berthed in San Diego. Mercy has been in a reduced operating status, which officials said is normal for a hospital ship.
If ordered to deploy, Mercy would get underway in the next several days, and would arrive in the Philippines in December, joining other U.S. Pacific Fleet units already supporting Operation Damayan.
On Nov. 11, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered the aircraft carrier USS George Washington and its escort ships to depart early from a liberty port in Hong Kong and make best possible speed for the Philippines. George Washington, USS Antietam, USS Cowpens and USNS Yukon were expected to arrive off the Philippine coast this evening local time.
U.S. Pacific Fleet ships already operating in the Western Pacific also were immediately diverted. USS Mustin, USS Lassen, USS Emory S. Land, and USNS Bowditch are now on station and coordinating with the Philippine government. The U.S. Navy also has P-3 maritime aircraft supporting the disaster relief effort led by the Philippine government.
The amphibious ships USS Ashland and USS Germantown are leaving Sasebo, Japan, today. After picking up Marines, equipment and relief supplies in Okinawa, the two ships will arrive at the Philippines in about a week. USS McCampbell and USNS Charles Drew also are heading to the Philippines.
The ships and their complement of aircraft, including 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, officials said.
The U.S. Navy routinely trains with numerous Pacific nations and military units, including the Philippine armed forces, to prepare for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions, officials said. In 2012, Mercy participated in the annual Pacific Partnership mission, which included working with Philippine authorities near Tacloban, the area hardest hit by Typhoon Haiyan.
Because of the long-standing partnership between the two nations, Pacific Fleet officials said, the United States, 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, officials explained, is to respond rapidly to host-nation requests for support in mitigating suffering and property damage and in preventing further loss of life. Operation Damayan is part of the broader U.S. government effort to support the Philippine government's request for humanitarian assistance, they added. The effort includes coordination by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, in constant consultation with Philippine authorities.
As of yesterday, Philippine and U.S. personnel have transported more than 107,000 pounds of relief supplies, officials said.