Vice President Mike Pence visited the Norfolk-based USNS Comfort in Miami on Tuesday as it prepared to deploy to Latin America to provide care for some of the millions of refugees who have fled Venezuela's political and economic crisis.
The hospital ship is heading to the Caribbean, Central America and South America as part of a five-month humanitarian mission. It left Norfolk last week and was scheduled to depart Miami on Wednesday.
The Trump administration has recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate ruler, although President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to hold onto power. Pence said that Maduro has no legitimate claim to power and "must go."
The United Nations has said there are 3 million Venezuelan refugees fleeing violence as well as a lack of food, medicine and essential services. The UN says this is the largest exodus in the recent history of Latin America.
"For the next five months, the crew of the USNS Comfort will continue America's effort to bring desperately needed medical care to those in need, especially the men and women and children who are suffering under the unprecedented crisis and oppression in Venezuela," Pence said in remarks following his tour.
The Comfort is scheduled to stop in Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis. Pence thanked the crew for its dedication and embarking on what he called "no ordinary mission."
"The generosity and the compassion and the care of the American people for the struggling people of Venezuela will set sail again aboard the USNS comfort," Pence said. "We are with our neighbors and we will stand with them with care and strength."
The Comfort is operated by civilian mariners and, fully crewed, carries about 1,215 Navy medical personnel. It includes a 1,000-bed medical treatment facility with 12 operating rooms. In addition to general health and medical services, the Comfort will be able to provide dental and optometry screenings and treatment, a CAT-scan unit, four X-ray machines, two oxygen-producing plants and a 5,000-unit blood bank.
The ship's medical treatment facility is primarily staffed by medical personnel from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, although it also includes medical specialists from the Army, Air Force, non-governmental organizations and allied nations.
This article is written by Brock Vergakis from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.