Comfort arrives in Norfolk under threat of sequestration
NORFOLK, Va. - The naval hospital ship Comfort arrived Friday at its new home base at Norfolk Naval Station on what is supposed to be a brief stopover on its way to a humanitarian mission in South and Central America.
But sequestration could change that. If the across-the-board budget cuts looming over federal spending kick in today, the Comfort's operations are slated to be canceled, relegating the ship to inaction at the pier.
"There is no official determination whether or not we will cancel the mission," said the mission -- and the ship -- spokeswoman, Lt. Desiree Frame. "We are continuing to plan for it. Of course, we remain flexible should something change due to sequestration, but we will continue to provide humanitarian and civic assistance."
The ship arrived from Baltimore, where it has been based for a quarter of a century. Relocating the ship will provide a cost-savings of close to $2 million a year, she said.
The 894-foot-long ship is a moving triage center with 12 operating rooms, dental and optometry suites, capability for a CT scanner and hundreds of hospital beds.
The ship is scheduled to head out in early April to carry out Operation Continuing Promise 2013, a four-month humanitarian mission to eight countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean: Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Peru.
Continuing Promise is latest in a series of such operations in the past decade, involving the ship's Navy medical team and a crew of civil service mariners and participants from numerous charities and non-governmental agencies.
Doctors and crew plan to team up with local doctors at each of the eight countries to treat patients and forge relationships in case of future emergencies, Frame said. The crew also plans to do some engineering and house construction projects in the towns they visit.