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USNS Mercy hospital ship to stop at Pearl Harbor

USNS Mercy (Navy)

The 894-foot Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy will stop at Pearl Harbor as it heads out on its 13th “Pacific Partnership” humanitarian and civic assistance mission across the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

The Military Sealift Command ship left San Diego Friday and will visit Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam from February through June to provide medical, dental, veterinary, public health services, engineering and disaster response to host countries who have invited the ship to visit, the Navy said.

The Navy said the Mercy will arrive at Pearl Harbor on Saturday.

More than 800 military and civilian personnel from the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Japan, Peru, Singapore, South Korea and the United Kingdom are participating, according to the Navy.

“Through Pacific Partnership we are deepening integral ties with our allies and partners across the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” Navy Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, the commander of Task Force 73, the executive agent for Pacific Partnership 18, said in a release. “The challenges we face with natural and man-made disasters do not respect borders or national sovereignty.”

The Mercy will be joined on the Pacific Partnership mission by the expeditionary fast transport ship USNS Fall River, which will make separate stops in Malaysia, Palau, Thailand and Yap.

Pacific Partnership is the largest annual multilateral disaster response preparedness mission conducted in the region, the Navy said.

Medical, dental, civil engineering and veterinary teams will partner with each host nation to conduct civic-action projects, community health exchanges, medical symposiums and disaster response training.

“This annual maritime operation will help improve disaster response preparedness, resiliency and capacity while enhancing partnerships with participating nations,” according to the the Navy.

The Mercy visits to the region are an important part of the “whole of government” diplomatic and military approach to the rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and competition with China for influence in the region.

The Mercy’s stop in Vietnam will mark the fifth consecutive visit and ninth visit in 12 years to the increasingly important Southeast Asian nation. The former U.S. Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau based in Honolulu was transferred to Vietnam in May.

In early March the USS Carl Vinson will make the first aircraft carrier stop in Vietnam since the Vietnam War with a port visit to Da Nang.

The Carl Vinson and guided missile destroyer USS Michael Murphy out of Pearl Harbor arrived in Manila Feb. 16 — with the carrier strike group’s movement watched closely by China, which claims much of the South China Sea as its territory.

Tina Kaidanow, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said earlier this month that the United States is committed to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, which “would argue in favor of a robust and an ongoing set of exercises” to demonstrate that right.

The United States is “continuing the pace” of those exercises “and I would anticipate you would not see any diminishment,” she said.

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© 2018 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.