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Navy Hospital Ship Saves 18-Month Old Toddler Lost at Sea

Helicopters from a U.S. Navy hospital ship rescued five mariners and an 18-month old child who had swam ashore on a small island off the coast of Papua New Guinea – after being lost at sea.

The June 30 rescue involved an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter aboard the USNS Mercy, a hospital ship currently operating in the Southern Pacific as part of a multi-national exercise called Pacific Partnership.

The mariners were picked up on a small land mass called Han Island, an area off the coast of Carteret Island in Papua New Guinea.

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The Deputy Chief Secretary of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Papua New Guinea, contacted the U.S. embassy in Port Moresby to request assistance transporting the civilians, who were survivors of a small vessel reported lost at sea June 27, a Navy statement said.

"The six injured souls swam ashore after being lost at sea, June 27. Mercy received a request for search and rescue the same day. In response, Mercy launched two helicopters, both with Navy search and rescue swimmers on board, to search the area, but they were unable to locate the boat or any survivors," a Navy statement said.

Of the nine on board the ship, six were able to swim to shore -- including a mother and her 18-month-old child, Navy officials said.

It is unclear how far the mother and her toddler wound up swimming through the ocean or surviving on the open seas, however more details are expected to emerge in coming days, Navy officials said.

Also, how the swimmers and a child were able to survive for what appears to be several days lost at sea – also remains unclear. Statements from the Navy indicated that the ship the mariners were on – sunk in the ocean.

Regarding the three other mariners aboard the ship, two are presumed dead and one is unaccounted for, according to the U.S. embassy. The rescued swimmers are now being treated aboard the USNS Mercy, a Navy statement said.

"All patients are currently in good condition," Capt. Melanie Merrick, the commanding officer of the military treatment facility USNS Mercy, said in a written statement.

Papua New Guinea is an island country in the Pacific region off the northeastern coast of Australia.

-- Kris Osborn can be reached at kris.osborn@military.com

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