Mercy reaches Sumatra

Navy officials plan to use the USNS Mercy and its advanced communications technology in creative ways to support tsunami relief operations, an admiral says.

SAN DIEGO -- The Navy hospital ship USNS Mercy arrived today offshore Aceh in northwest Sumatra, Indonesia, to support post-tsunami humanitarian assistance operations, the Navy's top commander in the Pacific said at the West 2005 conference sponsored by AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute.

Adm. Walter Doran, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said the Mercy will relieve the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, which has been operating offshore Sumatra since early January. Doran said the arrival of the Mercy will change the look of the Navy's tsunami assistance operations, with more of an emphasis on civil rather than purely military assistance.

Doran said the Mercy picked up 100 workers from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) including Project Hope and the World Health Organization at a port call in Singapore earlier this week.

Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, which is spearheading U.S. military tsunami humanitarian relief operations said last month that the United States planned to use the Mercy and its advanced technology in creative ways to support tsunami relief operations, including partially staffing the ship with personnel from NGOs.

Doran said the workers would be able to tap into resources on the ship including onboard operating rooms. Lt. Cmdr. Erik Threet, chief information officer for the Mercy and the Naval Medical Center San Diego, said the ship's information systems mirror those at the hospital including hundreds of onboard terminals running the Defense Department's standard Composite Health Care System.

The Mercy also has a teleradiology system, onboard VTC systems and a Cisco Systems voice-over-IP telephone system, which saves bandwidth when calls are routed through the ship's satellite communications systems.

Primary communications from the Mercy occur via a DOD Challenge Athena satellite link, which has a raw throughput of 1.54 megabits/sec and two commercial satellite systems. These systems allow the Mercy to function as another node on the medical center's network.

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