The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort got underway from Naval Station Norfolk, Va., last Friday ahead of departing for Central and South America from Port Miami. File photo by Bill Mesta/U.S. Navy
June 18 (UPI) -- Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that a U.S. Navy hospital ship will set sail to relieve pressure from the strain of increasing numbers of displaced Venezuelans.
The ship, departing Tuesday from Miami, has a five-month medical assistance mission with scheduled stops including Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Saint Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis.
Pence said he was pleased to be in Miami "for the departure of the USNS Comfort, bringing the compassion of the American people to those suffering here in our hemisphere and around the world."
The vessel will push off for its second deployment to Latin America in the last six months, Pence said.
In the next five months, the crew of the USNS Comfort will continue America's effort to "bring desperately needed medical care to those in need," Pence said, "especially the men and women and children who are suffering under the unprecedented crisis and oppression in Venezuela."
Pence also brought greetings from President Donald Trump, who is set to kick off his re-election campaign at a rally in Orlando, Fla.
Venezuelan Ambassador Carlos Vecchio and U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, joined Pence at Port Miami.
Pence blamed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's regime for policies shrinking Venezuela's economy over the last five years, with nine out of 10 people now living in poverty, in addition to thousands of children starving and many dying from lack of basic medical care. He added that the United States supports opposition leader Juan Guaido.
"At this very hour, it grieves my heart to say that in hospitals across Venezuela, children are dying," Pence said.
Pence continued that lawlessness has also "spread like a virus," with "vicious gangs" turning streets into "war zones."
"As Ambassador [Carlos] Vecchio said, this must end," Pence said. "Nicolas Maduro must go."
"The rising desperation in Venezuela has fueled a mass exodus, the likes of which we have never seen in the western hemisphere," he added.
Many of these refugees are fleeing to neighboring countries in Latin America.
The United Nations announced Sunday that on Friday over 8,000 Venezuelans crossed the border at Tumbes, the largest number ever recorded on a single day, with over half of them requesting asylum in Peru.
The total number of refugees and migrants in Peru now stands at about 800,000.
And Columbia alone has 1.3 million finding shelter there, Pence said at the press conference Tuesday.
Peru and Columbia have been receiving the vast majority of the 4 million refugees and migrants from Venezuela, according to the United Nations.
The USNS Comfort has capacity for a crew of up to 1,000 doctors, nurses and specialists, and has a total patient capacity of 1,000 with an 80-bed intensive care ward, a 20-bed recovery ward, a 280-bed intermediate care ward and 12 operating rooms.