Mercy Ships to retire two workhorses, commission new floating hospital

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GARDEN VALLEY, Texas— Two veteran Mercy Ships—Anastasis and Caribbean Mercy—will be retired this year, while Africa Mercy, the fleet's newest vessel, will enter active service.

Africa Mercy is expected to be commissioned later this year.

Don Stephens, founder and president of Mercy Ships, said in a news release that the charity has made good use of former cruise liners as converted hospital ships, but the purpose-built hospital in the Africa Mercy will allow greater numbers of the world's forgotten poor to receive medical care. According to Stephens, the best practices from both ships were used as a baseline in designing the hospital, public areas and crew accommodations on the new ship.

The crew from the soon-to-be-retired ships have been invited to consider service on the Africa Mercy or elsewhere within the organization's field locations and 16 national offices.

"We are still taking inventory on each ship, but the medical equipment and supplies from the Anastasis that will be used by the Africa Mercy are worth well over $1 million USD," Jim Paterson, vice president of international operations, who is overseeing the two older ship's final arrangements said in a news release. "The sale of both ships has not yet been finalized—our broker is considering all options to ensure the highest bid price."

Following completion of her 274th port assignment, in Monrovia, Liberia, Anastasis was expected to sail to Ghana at the end of May where it will connect with the Africa Mercy, probably this fall, and transfer expertise, crew and equipment, although officials signaled that timeframe could be pushed back several months.

A special handover ceremony between the two vessels is under consideration for the fall. Ministry administrators said the priority of the "passing the torch" ceremony will be to honor crew who have served during the vessel's 28 years of service as a hospital ship.

The former 1950's Italian passenger liner was pioneered as a hospital ship to "serve the nations" in the late 1970s by the Christian charity. The Africa Mercy will claim the title of the world's largest non-governmental hospital ship after the two ships transition in West Africa.

Until June, the 11,701-ton Anastasis is still home to nearly 400 volunteer crew from 40 nations, some of whom have served onboard for more than 15 years, thanks to a network of support from individuals, churches, foundations, grants and corporate gifts-in-kind from around the world. Tens of thousands of volunteers have brought the message of hope and healing to the developing nations served during the flagship's second career as a hospital vessel.

Having finished her tour of duty this winter serving as a base of operations for Mercy Ships' hurricane relief efforts on the U.S. Gulf Coast, the Caribbean Mercy will be retired as well. The 265-foot ship is currently docked near the port of Mobile, Ala. until she can be sold.

Acquired in 1994, the Caribbean Mercy called into 138 ports primarily throughout the Caribbean and Central American region, serving as an eye hospital and offering dental, orthopedic and healthcare services off ship. Her ice-strengthened hull also enabled the former Norwegian coastal ferry to go as far afield as the Russian Straits and Asia for relief work.

The Africa Mercy is expected to double the number of direct medical beneficiaries currently served by the two ships. In addition, reduction of operational costs and technical crew, as well as age and construction of the older vessels were key components behind the strategic decision to retire the other two ships at this time, Stephens said.

For more information, visit mercyships.org.