by DAVID AXE
The U.S. Navy’s Comfort isn’t the only hospital ship headed for Haiti, to help out in the aftermath of last week’s devastating 7.0 earthquake. “Colombia is sending a hospital ship. It’s on the way,” Lieutenant General Ken Keen, the top U.S. officer in the country, said on Monday.
The vessel Keen is referring to is actually a self-propelled river barge, originally built as a troop transport and put into service in 1956. Today she serves a mobile platform for surgical teams. Surgery barge Socorro and her sister, Gutierrez, each displace around 70 tons and are capable of seven knots. The crew numbers 12, plus medical staff. All this, according to Eric Wertheim’s Combat Fleets of the World.
A small river barge offers some advantages over bigger, deep-water ships. At the moment, the greatest obstacle to delivering aid to Haiti is access: the seaports are wrecked; the airport is clogged. Any vessel that can circumvent the large ports and gain access to shallow-water seaside communities can bring aid to bear faster.
It’s for that reason that the U.S. Navy needs to buy more catamarans to handle future crises. Then-Military Sealift Command boss Admiral Robert Riley told me three years ago the Navy was considering using catamarans as the basis for hospital vessels. But that hasn’t happened yet, and 40,000-ton vessels like Comfort still dominate.
Colombian prez Alvaro Uribe announced the surgery barge’s deployment after proposing to visit Haiti himself. In addition, a Colombian military plane has joined the air bridge shuttling relief supplies and workers into the over-crowded, U.S.-controlled Port-au-Prince airport.
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Coast Guard Continues Support in Wake of Haiti Earthquake, Part One
Coast Guard Continues Support in Wake of Haiti Earthquake, Part Two