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The Military Sealift Command ships USNS Mercy and USNS Niagara Falls are bringing their medical assistance and supply capabilities to Nias, Indonesia, to help with earthquake disaster-relief efforts, Navy officials stated Thursday.

“Any support we provide will be closely coordinated with the government of Indonesia based upon medical needs,” stated 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Ike Skelton in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

“The two vessels assisted in the recovery efforts from the December tsunamis and have since been on a humanitarian mission to Alor, Indonesia, and Dili, East Timor,” he added.

An estimated 400-500 people are believed dead after a magnitude-8.7 quake struck off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra on Monday night, according to the Associated Press. At least three strong tremors rocked the area Thursday, Reuters reported, with one measuring magnitude 6.3.

The Niagara Falls, operating from U.S. Naval Base Guam, is one of the MSC’s six combat stores ships. The Mercy operates from San Diego and is one of two MSC hospital ships, according to the command Web site.

Niagara Falls provides “helicopters and lift capabilities to assist Mercy,” Skelton stated, and the hospital ship can offer humanitarian relief.

Skelton said the extent to which the ships become involved depends upon conclusions gathered by “teams en route to conduct disaster area surveys to determine the scope of the need. The ships’ specific tasking will be based on those assessments.”

Asked whether other 7th Fleet ships will deploy to assist relief efforts in Nias, Skelton stated: “It’s standard Navy policy not to discuss future ship movements or other operational plans.”

The AP reported Thursday that the Navy estimated the ships would take six days to arrive at Nias from their locations near East Timor.


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