CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S. military is extending its disaster relief effort in Sri Lanka to include the Republic of the Maldives.

Combined Support Group Sri Lanka announced Tuesday it’s sending about 100 Marines and sailors and two Maritime Prepositioning Force ships to the island group to help recovery efforts after the Dec. 26 tsunami that swamped the low-lying islands.

The Maldives, a string of 1,192 coral atolls, is in the Indian Ocean about 300 miles southwest of India’s southern tip. The ships and personnel were to arrive later this week to begin relief operations expected to last about a week, said Marine officials in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The tsunami swamped up to 40 percent of the islands, which lie, on average, three feet above sea level. Of the 300,000 people who live there, 82 people were reported killed. The detachment’s primary focus will be to provide fresh water, clear debris and distribute relief supplies in coordination with the Maldives government.

The ships, the MV 1st Lt. Jack Lummus and the MV 1st Lt. Alex Bonnyman, are forward-deployed U.S. civilian cargo ships loaded with Marine equipment and supplies that can be used for humanitarian relief efforts, according to 1st Lt. Eric Tausch, task force spokesman. They also can store large amounts of fresh water.

“The assistance required in the Maldives consists mainly of providing fresh drinking water,” stated Brig. Gen. Frank Panter, commander of Combined Task Force Sri Lanka, in a news release. Sri Lanka has not needed the Marines’ help in producing fresh water through reverse osmosis water purification units, he added.

The U.S. forces will coordinate the Maldives operation with French and British relief efforts already under way on the islands, the release stated.

Meanwhile, in Sri Lanka, the task force announced that a team of 35 U.S. Navy medical personnel will help a Jaffna hospital’s staff care for some 9,000 displaced victims this week.

Tausch said the U.S. medical personnel will be in southern Sri Lanka for about 10 days, providing primary care for people injured or suffering from diarrhea, respiratory illnesses and skin ailments.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now