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Hanabusa asks Navy to look into keeping USNS Mercy docked at 'forward Pacific port'

By William Cole

LAST UPDATED: 1:27 a.m. HST, Nov 19, 2013

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is asking the Navy to study the merits of moving the hospital ship USNS Mercy from San Diego to a "forward Pacific port" such as Pearl Harbor to be able to respond quicker to natural disasters and other emergencies in the region.

Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, ordered the activation of the big hospital ship last Wednesday in the event it was needed to support the typhoon relief effort in the Philippines.

If ordered to deploy, Mercy could have been underway in "several days," but would arrive in the Philippines in December due to the long transit, the Navy said last week.

So far, the Philippines has not requested the assistance of the Mercy, however.

"We have seen that one of the evolving roles of the U.S. military as we rebalance to the Asia-Pacific will be (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief), and know that Typhoon Haiyan will not be the last time the U.S. finds itself in need of quick response to help an ally," Hanabusa said in a letter Monday to Harris, the Pacific fleet commander, and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.

Hanabusa is a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Hanabusa said she was pleased to see Harris' decision to activate Mercy, but remained concerned "about the lead time that it will take the ship to reach its destination in the Philippines if deployed."

Pacific Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Steven Curry said the activation of Mercy was complete as of Saturday.

"The activation decision was made early in the crisis, before the medical situation was completely known due to the time required to prepare the ship for sea, and transit to the affected area," Curry said in an e-mail. "Now that the medical situation in the Philippines is clearer, we have made the decision to keep USNS Mercy pierside in an activated status, fully ready to deploy if requested by our Philippine ally."  

Not deploying Mercy "demonstrates not only the strength of the Philippine government taking actions to take care of their own people, but the resolve and efforts put forth by the U.S. and international community to come to the aid of the people of the Philippines," Curry said.

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