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Coordinating Cargo to Keep Things Moving

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070908-16
Release Date: 9/8/2007 3:20:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elizabeth R. Allen, USNS Comfort Public Affairs

USNS COMFORT, At Sea (NNS) -- For the past six weeks, Military Sealift Command (MSC) civilian mariners attached to hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20), moved cargo so that medical care was possible for thousands of patients in Belize, Guatemala, Panama, Nicaragua and now El Salvador.

Although many of the ship's departments play a role to make replenishment successful, it's the civilian mariners assigned to the Deck Department who set the pace in motion, coordinating cargo to keep things moving.

"There is a great need for cargo on the ship," said Ordinary Seaman Edwin Baker Sr., a civilian mariner attached to Comfort who regularly assists with cargo movement. "For instance, food cargo provides nourishment for the ship, without it, we'd be in trouble."

The Deck Department coordinates movement of cargo and passengers on and off the ship. The civilian mariners transfer supplies that come aboard the ship via boat, pier or helicopter, and make sure the necessary supplies get to shore.

While transiting between ports, supplies are pre-staged in designated locations around the ship to ease the process of getting it to shore. Necessary items are placed on pallets, wrapped in shrink-wrap and taken to areas on the ship for transportation.

"Everything is shrink-wrapped to keep it together and preserve it," Baker said. "When cargo is transported hand to hand, items may get separated. This keeps the process more controlled."

The coordination of moving cargo depends on Mother Nature. Currents, drafts and tides have an effect on how the Deck Department moves cargo on and off the ship. The solution to moving cargo was met with creative problem solving and enthusiasm.

Where the ship was anchored several miles off shore in Nicaragua. High sea swells prevented tying a transit boat to Comfort and a ramp could not be used to transport people and supplies due to the rocking of the ship. The deck departments solution was to load lifeboats and lower them to sea level, where they were met by the transport boat.

Cargo is essential to any ship for any mission, and the deck department has two and a half months remaining of this mission to keep it moving smoothly and safely.

Comfort is on a four-month humanitarian deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean providing medical treatment to patients in a dozen countries.

Sixty-eight civil service mariners working for MSC and are responsible for the 894-foot ship's navigation, propulsion and engineering services. MSC owns and operates Comfort and its sister ship, USNS Mercy (T-AH 19), which is based out of San Diego.

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