June 10 (UPI) -- The hospital ship USNS Comfort will deploy next week on a medical mission to South America and the Caribbean, the U.S. Southern Command announced on Monday.
A Command statement noted that the ship will "provide medical assistance in support of regional partners and in response to the regional impacts of the Venezuela political and economic crisis."
During its five-month deployment the vessel is scheduled to visit, and work with health ministries' hosting Venezuelans who have fled their country in, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Comfort will leave Naval Station Norfolk on Friday, its seventh deployment to the region since 2007. Vice President Mike Pence revealed the Comfort's plans in May.
The ship most recently visited South America and the Caribbean area on an 11-week mission in the autumn of 2018. In support of the U.S. Southern Command's Enduring Promise initiative, the ship and personnel worked to relieve shortages of medical care in Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Honduras.
In 2017, Comfort traveled to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico with medical and other supplies. It arrived as 97 percent of the island was without electrical power, and about half the population was without clean drinking water.
"Comfort medical teams will be working alongside host nation medical professionals who are absorbing thousands of Venezuelan migrants and refugees," Adm. Craig Fuller, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, said of the current mission. "The Venezuelan people are desperately fleeing their homeland for hope of a better way of life. We are committed to finding ways to support the Venezuelan people and our regional partners who share the goal of seeing a legitimate, democratic government reinstated in Venezuela."
The USNS Comfort's designation identifies it as a non-commissioned ship owned by the U.S. Navy and crewed by civilians from the Military Sealift Command.
The ship can carry a crew of doctors, nurses and specialists of up to 1,000, and has a total patient capacity of 1,000. It features an 80-bed intensive care ward, a 20-bed recovery ward, a 280-bed intermediate care ward and 12 operating rooms.