Ever once in a while a truly unique marine story comes along: one where a shipyard is giving back not to the community in which it is located, but to the world. Such is the case right now at Harrison Brothers Shipyard in Mobile, Ala. The company has donated dock space and shipyard services to the Caribbean Mercy, one of three vessels of the Mercy Ships fleet that bring desperately needed medical care to the poorest of the poor in Central America and Africa.
The Caribbean Mercy is at Harrison Brothers for engine repair, restocking and other repairs. The 272-ft. vessel specializes in bringing the precious gift of sight to those who badly need it. "We thought this was an area where we could make a difference to a dedicated group of volunteers bringing help to very needy people," said Mark Tate
, director of new business development for Harrison Brothers. "We are ship repair specialists and we happen to have dock space available and can supply shipyard support for this organization," Tate added.
"Our mission is to bring both hope and healing to the poor, regardless of race, gender or religion," said Udo Kronester
, executive director of the Caribbean Mercy.
The Caribbean Mercy use volunteers to run the vessel. There are bunks for up to 87 persons and there are many families onboard who have stateroom accommodations.
There is a multi-national crew and staff and the operation uses land-based teams to supplement the staff. Many of the volunteers are short term signing on for two weeks up to a year and many have made a long-term commitment to the program.
The medical staff is typically not on the boat in a permanent capacity but meets the ship to an area to donate their skills for several weeks. For example the Caribbean Mercy was in the Puerto Castilla, Honduras area during the September-December, 2004-time period. During this time, the medical crew easily filled up a seven-week surgery schedule performing 176 surgeries, mostly cataract operations. They also dispensed 989 pairs of glasses. The dental team was also busy seeing an average of 20 patients a day performing a total of 3,017 procedures. An orthopedics team performed four-weeks of surgery in a regional hospital. Community Development and Outreach teams go into the countryside and teach villagers how to purify water and counsel on AIDS prevention. Since Mercy Ships is a Christian-based organization, a part of their mission is counseling local prisoners and offering inmates English classes and prayer sessions. Purifying water can be done by mixing seeds of the Maringa Tree, found locally, with unclean water. The seeds absorb the containments. The seeds are removed from the water and it is then packaged in clear plastic bottles where UV radiation from the sun sanitizes it to a drinkable standard. "We can't be on site all of the time so a lot of our work is helping teach the local populations how to lead more healthier lives through improved sanitation practices and better personal hygiene, Kronester added. Other activities on a typical visit may include drilling fresh water wells and helping the local residents improve infrastructure such as schools. The Caribbean Mercy was built in 1952 in Aalborg, Denmark as a car ferry and is powered by a MAK 3,670 hp diesel engine. The Mercy Ships fleet also includes the Anastasis, a large 500-ft. long vessel that works mainly in Africa. A third ship Africa Mercy
is being converted in England. "The enthusiasm of the Mercy Ships organization is quite infectious, Tate said "and is one of the reasons why we are glad to assist them." Almost the entire organization is volunteer and the company is recognized by the IRS as a tax-exempt 501 c (3) charity. — Larry Pearson