The first ship the United States Navy converted for the sole purpose of medical treatment has an interesting history. In 1798, under the direction of Napoleon, a 60-foot ketch weighing approximately 45 tons was built and named Mastico. The Mastico was later captured by the British and was presented to the Bashaw of Tripoli as a gift of appeasement and friendship. During the protection of United States interests in the Mediterranean, LT Stephen Decatur interdicted and captured the vessel Mastico and its cargo of slave girls destined for the harem of the Sultan of Turkey. The Mastico was renamed Intrepid and later used during the infamous rescue of the frigate Philadelphia. It was then outfitted as a hospital ship in support of the USS Enterprise.
Over the last 200 years, the Navy has had 26 hospital ships, always evolving and adapting, these ships have saved thousands of lives. Hospital ships also have the honor of being the first Naval ships to allow females to serve onboard as nurses.
Ship Name Hull Number Years commissioned
USS Ben Morgan
USS Red Rover 1862-1865
USS Relief (II) 1908-1910
USS Relief (VI) AH-1 1920-1946
USS Solace (I) AH-2 1898-1921
USS Comfort (I) AH-3 1918-1921
USS Mercy (I) AH-4 1918-1934
USS Solace (II) AH-5 1941-1946
USS Comfort (II) AH-6 1944-1946
USS Hope AH-7 1944-1946
USS Mercy (II) AH-8 1944-1946
USS Bountiful AH-9 1944-1946
USS Samaritan AH-10 1944-1946
USS Refuge AH-11 1944-1946
USS Haven AH-12 1946-1957
USS Benevolence AH-13 1945-1947
USS Tranquility AH-14 1945-1946
USS Consolation AH-15 1945-1955
USS Repose AH-16 1945-1970
USS Sanctuary AH-17 1945-1971
USS Rescue AH-18 1945-1946
USNS Mercy (III) T-AH-19 1987-
USNS Comfort (III) T-AH-20 1987-
Currently Commissioned Hospital Ships
USNS Mercy (T-AH 19)
USNS Comfort (T-AH 20)
aka The Love Boat
Frequently called this because of the amorous relationships that have been known to develop between medical personnel at sea.
Overheard, from one corpsman to another, “Yea, I chose a specialty rating that would keep me at a hospital instead of out in the field. But, they put me on the COMFORT contingency platform. Man, I mean, I wanted to be safe; not on a big white boat with big red targets.”
General Characteristcs: Mercy Class
Conversion: National Steel and Shipbuilding Co., San Diego, Calif.
Power Plant: 2 GE turbines; two boilers; 24,500 hp (18.3MW); one shaft
Length: 894 feet (272.6 meters)
Beam: 105.6 feet (32.2 meters)
Displacement: 69,360 tons (70,473.10 metric tons) full load
Speed: 17.5 knots (20.13 mph)
Aircraft: Helicopter platform only
Crew: Civilian 18 ROS, 61 FOS
Military 58 ROS, 1,214 FOS - 956 Naval medical staff, and 258 Naval support staff
Currently, the United States Navy employs the use of two hospital ships. Operated by the Military Sealift Command, they were designed to provide emergency, on-site care for deployed US fighting forces.
These hospital ships are used for two reasons:
“First, they provide a mobile, flexible, rapidly responsive afloat medical capability to provide acute medical and surgical care in support of amphibious task forces, Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force elements, forward deployed Navy elements of the fleet and fleet activities located in areas where hostilities may be imminent.
Secondly, to provide a full-service hospital asset for use by other government agencies involved in the support of disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide. The hospital ship’s mission in joint operations is to minimize the effects of wounds, injuries, and disease on unit effectiveness, readiness, and morale. This mission is accomplished by a proactive preventive medicine program and a phased health care system (echelons of care) that extends from actions taken at the point of wounding, injury, or illness to evacuation from a theater for treatment at a hospital in the continental United States.”
Both ships are converted San Clemente-class super tankers. Mercy was delivered in 1986 and Comfort in 1987. When not loaded down with fuel, Super tankers tend bob and rock endlessly, even in a calm sea. Friends who have served on the Comfort told me that they had trouble getting to sleep after they had returned from a longer deployment because they were so used to being rocked to sleep.
Each ship acts as a self contained definitive treatment facility. They each contain 12 fully-equipped operating rooms, a 1,000 bed hospital facility, radiological services, medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab, a cat scan and two oxygen producing plants. Both vessels have a helicopter deck capable of landing large military helicopters, as well as side ports to take on patients at sea.
As non-combatant vessels protected by the Hague and Geneva Conventions, they are painted white with bright red crosses painted on their sides. They are typically brightly lighted at night, travel alone and identify themselves to all.
The ships are maintained in a five-day reduced operating status (ROS) at East and West Coast ports. The USNS Comfort is ported in Baltimore, MD and the USNS Mercy is ported in San Diego CA. These ships maintain a small crew of civilian merchant mariners and active duty Navy medical (doctors, nurses and corpsmen) and support personnel (cooks, engineering, communications specialists, etc). To fully staff these vessels, the ships rely upon the staff members of the Navy’s two largest medical treatment facilities. The USNS Comfort draws from the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, MD and the USNS Mercy draws from the Naval Medical Center, San Diego, CA.
Each ship is activated annually for a week of engineering sea trials and quarterly for engineering dock trials. Concurrent activation of the medical treatment facility, or fleet exercise participation, is usually scheduled during these trials as directed.
Any decision to activate a hospital ship for other than the above routine requirements must be coordinated with the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).
Philippines in 1987 - humanitarian mission.
Operation Desert Shield/Storm
Operation Desert Shield/Storm
Operation Sea Signal's Cuban/Haitian migrant interdiction operations
Operation Uphold Democracy - Haiti
Baltic Challenge '98, a multinational exercise
September 11, 2001, New York City.