Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The US Navy Visits Monrovia...

Last week the US Navy visited Monrovia. Several naval vessels, including the brand-new HSV-2 Swift and the USS Fort McHenry, were stationed in the waters off Liberia, as part of the US Navy's Africa Partnership Station. The US Navy are visiting several African states in order to facilitate humanitarian projects as well as to increase cooperation and understanding between the US and these countries.

Mercy Ships crew were invited to tour these ships. The first vessel that was in port was the HSV-2 Swift. HSV stands for High Speed Vessel. It is a very modern, ultra-fast catamaran, built and owned by the Australian Government, and on loan to the US Navy for a period of five years. It is capable of reaching a top speed of 50 knots. By comparison, the top speed of the Africa Mercy is only around 18 knots, and we typically cruise at 12 knots! I went with a large group of Mercy Shippers to this vessel last Wednesday, and we had a wonderful party with the US Navy! They also gave us a tour of this very interesting vessel.

The Swift left on Thursday morning and then it was the turn of the USS Fort McHenry to show us its colours. However, it did not enter the dock, but had been at anchor in the waters outside the harbour for the past week. So we embarked this vessel in a rather unique way. We boarded a troop landing craft and went out the port to the ship. It was very exciting - and great to be on the open sea again, albeit for a short period of time! I commented to my friend Paul Waldron as we boarded the landing craft, "Doesn't this remind you of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan?" Indeed, the landing craft were very similar to those used to storm the beaches of Normandy back on D-Day, June 6th 1944.

The USS Fort McHenry is a very interesting ship. It is able to flood itself in order to load its fleet of landing craft and other amphibious vehicles. It is also a defensive platform, and thus is not capable of being involved in heavy offensive manouevres. Of course, the vessel does have high-tech weapons systems and defensive capabilities that allow it to defend itself if attacked. But it is primarily involved in humanitarian relief efforts throughout the globe. A couple of years ago, for example, it was one of the main US Navy vessels involved in the clean-up efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Being able to flood its central compartment, it was able to retrieve many small yachts and leisure crafts that had been washed out to sea in the storm. So having said that, this past week was very exciting - being able to visit two US Naval vessels, and to travel out to sea in a troop carrier! And, of course, it is always nice to get a different perspective on the M/V Africa Mercy! And how blessed we are to serve on this vessel!

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