VINH, Vietnam (July 20, 2012) - They say every cloud has a silver lining, even after a terrible disaster.
It may not be obvious at first, but given time the sun will shine.
In 1978, the Amoco Cadiz ran aground off the coast of France, ripping open its hull and spilling millions of gallons of crude oil, which devastated more than 200 miles coastline.
The disaster accelerated an internationally agreed upon phasing out of single-hulled vessels used to transport hazardous substances. Suddenly an entire fleet of tankers were obsolete.
In 1984, the Department of Navy purchased the sister single-hull tankers SS Worth and SS Rose City, seeing in them an opportunity to create a new breed of hospital ships called the Mercy-class.
The two ships were refitted and the SS Worth became the USNS Mercy (T-AH 19).
Today, Mercy is the flagship for Pacific Partnership 2012 (PP12), a mission itself born of misfortune.
Pacific Partnership began, not as an exercise, but as the Navy’s emergency response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated hundreds of miles of coast in the Asia Pacific region.
Navy leadership realized that regional cooperation and partnerships were keys to responding to a large-scale disaster and saving lives.
Now in its seventh year, PP12 is the largest annual US Pacific Fleet humanitarian civic assistance mission to south East Asia and the Southwest Pacific.
This mission brings together US military personnel, host and partner nations, non-government organizations and international agencies to build stronger relationships and develop disaster response capabilities throughout the Asia-Pacific Region.
On July 8, the Mercy arrived off the coast of Vinh, Vietnam, the third port-of-call in a four-nation mission. The Mercy will make a final port at Sihanoukville, Cambodia in early August and then return to its home port in San Diego. PP12 has already visited Indonesia and the Philippines. At each stop the crew of the Mercy, other partner nations and non-governmental organizations work together with the host nation to offer medical, dental, veterinary and engineering civic action projects. Subject matter expert exchanges and cultural activities create opportunities for the PP12 participants to learn from and about the host nation.
The statistics for the Mercy-mission are staggering. In Indonesia alone PP12 visited four different locations. More than 8000 patients were seen at medical (MedCAP) and dental civic action projects (DentCAP). Routine medical conditions were treated at MedCAP and DentCAP sites. Six hundred patients were evaluated for surgery and 191 surgeries were completed.
At Samar Island in the Philippines PP12 saw more than 16,000 patients at MedCAPS and DentCAPS. Six hundred were taken to the Mercy and evaluated for surgical procedures and 271 surgeries were performed in one of Mercy’s 12 operating rooms.
Standing on a devastated beach in Brittany thirty years ago it would have been difficult to imagine the positive outcome about to come of one of the worst environmental disasters in history.
Both USNS Mercy and the Pacific Partnership 2012 mission have their origins firmly rooted in hardships of the past. But for the thousands of people who have benefitted, and continue to benefit, from the ship and the mission, the future looks a little brighter.
For more information about the PP12 mission, please visit the Pacific Partnership Blog or engage with Pacific Partnership on Facebook and Twitter.
Ted Wendel is a Pacific Partnership 2012 volunteer from the University of California at San Diego Pre-Dental Society