Hospital ship Comfort to go to Caribbean

May 24, 1994|By David Michael Ettlin | David Michael Ettlin,Sun Staff Writer

An article in yesterday's editions incorrectly reported the patient capacity of the hospital USNS Comfort, which is being deployed to the Caribbean in June. The ship has 1,000 beds.

The Sun regrets the error.

The Baltimore-based hospital ship USNS Comfort will be sent to the Caribbean early next month for possible use as a processing center for fleeing Haitian boat people, the Military Sealift Command (MSC) said yesterday.

The Comfort -- last activated for military duty during the Persian Gulf war -- is undergoing routine maintenance at Newport News, Va., and "will report to the U.S. Atlantic Command for duty in the Caribbean in early June," according to the MSC, a civilian agency which operates the 250-bed hospital ship.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Spokeswoman Trish Larson said the Sealift Command has leased a 700-bed Ukrainian cruise ship, the Gruziya, which is docked in Tampa, Fla., for use in processing Haitians.

The Gruziya is to be replaced sometime in June by another Ukrainian cruise ship, the Ivan Franco, she said.

President Clinton announced earlier this month that Haitian boat people would be interviewed aboard ships or at camps in third countries to separate refugees fleeing political persecution from economic migrants.

The policy has not gone into effect because there is no processing facility -- on land or sea -- in place yet.

Yesterday, a Coast Guard cutter returned 184 Haitians, bringing to 1,293 the number of would-be Haitian refugees repatriated in the last 11 days.

Ms. Larson was unable to say yesterday whether the Comfort would carry a full contingent of medical personnel, as it did during gulf war duty.

The Comfort will join a growing naval presence in the Caribbean, where seven ships from the U.S. Atlantic Fleet -- along with vessels from Canada, Argentina, France, Britain and the Netherlands -- are imposing the United Nations embargo on Haiti.

The USS Wasp, an amphibious assault ship with 650 Marines, also is steaming toward the Caribbean on a training exercise.

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