U.S. to Send Hospital Ship to Colombia

USNS Comfort
file photo of USNS Comfort

By The Maritime Executive 2018-08-19 18:10:27

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has committed to sending a U.S. Navy hospital ship to Colombia on what he says is “absolutely a humanitarian mission.” 

The ship will be used to help treat the many thousands of people entering Colombia to escape violence and poverty in Venezuela. “We're not sending soldiers, we’re sending doctors,” Mattis said, confirming the ship would not enter Venezuela's territorial waters.

The USNS Comfort, based at Norfolk, Virginia, will most likely be the vessel chosen for the mission. It is unclear when the vessel will sail, but chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said it would be “in the fall.”

Mattis was in Colombia to meet with Colombian Defense Minister Guillermo Botero. “The leaders discussed a broad range of defense issues, and the secretary thanked the minister for their country’s regional leadership role as a security exporter,” White said.

The secretary also thanked Colombia for its work regionally to denounce undemocratic actions – especially those in Venezuela and Nicaragua. The leaders agreed to work together to achieve mutual strategic objectives to address regional challenges, White said.

An estimated 2.3 million people had fled Venezuela to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil, according to the United Nations. Many are suffering from malnourishment.

Tensions continue to rise in Latin America over migration triggered by economic and political crises in Venezuela and Nicaragua. Peru and Ecuador are halting immigrants at the border, and Colombia has said it fears that Ecuador's crack down, which went into effect on Saturday, will leave thousands of Venezuelans stranded in Colombia. Colombia has already given temporary residence to over 800,000 people.