The Navy announced late Wednesday that it will be deploying one of its two hospital ships, the USNS Comfort, to South America next month. The deployment comes at the request of the Colombian government, which has struggled to mitigate the humanitarian crisis caused by the influx of Venezuelan refugees surging across the border.
“This mission is a symbol of what can be accomplished when partners work together to aid people in need,” said Adm. Kurt Tidd, commander of U.S. Southern Command via a press release. “Because this mission is humanitarian in nature, it will focus on the people we’re assisting, on the nations we’re partnering with, and on the region we’re supporting together.”
The ongoing crisis in Venezuela has forced many citizens living under the socialist Maduro regime to flee in search of food and medicine, however, the mass migration of tens of thousands of starving and sick Venezuelans has overwhelmed Colombia’s social services.
The relationship between the nations has been deteriorating since Venezuela’s economy and social structure began to implode in 2013. This week, Colombia accused Venezuela of sending armed soldiers and helicopters across the border without invitation. According to Reuters, the Colombian government sent a “letter of protest” to the Maduro regime and accused Venezuela of violating “Colombia’s sovereignty.”
The USNS Comfort will spend approximately two months in the region, providing “medical assistance” and other humanitarian aid alongside allied partners. Although its primary mission is to support Colombia, the Comfort will also make stops at other allied ports in the area.
The USNS Comfort is a non-commissioned U.S. Navy ship under control of the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC). Homeported in Norfolk, Virginia, the USNS Comfort supports both Atlantic and Caribbean operations and has made five previous deployments to the region since 2007. Although the deck officers of the Comfort are MSC mariners, the medical staff is composed primarily of military personnel. The Comfort’s sister ship, the USNS Mercy, recently completed a similar deployment in the Pacific.