May 8 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy will send a hospital ship to help Venezuelan refugees, Vice President Mike Pence announced.
"At the President's direction, the United States Navy will deploy the USNS Comfort to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America this June," Pence said at the State Department's annual Washington Conference on the Americas on Tuesday. "The Comfort will embark on a five-month humanitarian mission to address the Venezuelan crisis."
The ship is a non-combatant hospital vessel staffed by officers of the Navy's Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Medical Service Corps, Nurse Corps and Chaplain Corps, and enlisted Hospital Corpsman personnel. It will primarily visit areas hosting Venezuelan refugees who have fled their country's economic and political hardships. Pence, in his speech, said that at least three million people have left Venezuela and the regime of President Nicolas Maduro.
"The USNS Comfort represents our enduring promise to our partners in the Western Hemisphere, our shared neighborhood," Navy Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said in a statement. "U.S. Southern Command is committed to the region in support of our Caribbean and Latin American partners, as well as displaced Venezuelans who continue to flee the brutal oppression of the former Maduro regime and its interlocking, man-made political, economic and humanitarian crises."
The U.S. has provided more than $256 million to the region in humanitarian and development assistance, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said on Tuesday, adding that more will be needed as the country suffers through violence, economic insecurity, hyperinflation, and shortages of food, medicines and essential services.
The ship's deployment will be its seventh in the region since 2007, and its second in the Western Hemisphere in the past six months. A Chinese Navy hospital ship, the Peace Ark, visited Venezuela in September 2018 as part of an 11-country tour.