World Maritime Day: A Tribute to the World Below Deck

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Since 1978, Mercy Ships has used hospital ships to deliver First World medical care to the forgotten poor in Third World countries. The volunteer crew includes both medical and non-medical personnel. The maritime crew members keep the engines and all vital equipment functioning properly so that the state-of-the-art hospital ship can fulfill its mission of transforming lives.

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We’re saving lives. We’re helping people. That spurs us on.

Since 1978, Mercy Ships has used hospital ships to deliver First World medical care to the forgotten poor in Third World countries. The volunteer crew includes both medical and non-medical personnel. The maritime crew members keep the engines and all vital equipment functioning properly so that the state-of-the-art hospital ship can fulfill its mission of transforming lives. World Maritime Day provides the perfect opportunity for Mercy Ships to highlight the vital importance of the Engineering Department onboard its state-of-the-art hospital ship, the Africa Mercy.

The Africa Mercy offers its crew and patients a comfortable environment with air-conditioning, lighting, hot water, bathrooms, and computers. But, below the deck, lies another world – the Engine Room. It is very hot, very noisy, and full of intimidating equipment – engines, compressors, generators, filters, dials, levers, pipes. It is home to a dedicated and talented group, the Engineering Team – the heart of our maritime crew. Their work is coordinated by Chief Engineering Superintendent Michel Zandbergen, from the Netherlands, at the Mercy Ships International Operations Center in Texas.

Former Chief Engineer Andy Cole, of the UK, leads the 30-member team on the ship. Although the ship remains in port for much of the year, it takes the hard work of the entire team to maintain the highest maritime standards. Additionally, all crew must be trained in safe operating procedures. The main engines and propulsion systems must be ready for sea departure at a moment’s notice, in case of political unrest in the host country. A hospital ship also requires special equipment that must be maintained – for example, compressors to furnish medical oxygen – and equipment breakdowns must be addressed immediately.

The fact that the hospital ship spends a long time in port, usually ten months, presents unique challenges. Power and services to the hospital and crew areas must be uninterrupted – a power outage could endanger a patient’s life. Also, water pollution in the port can clog sea water intakes, which are used for cooling generators and engines. So, dive teams have to clean the intakes often, sometimes twice a week.

The Africa Mercy began its service as a hospital ship in 2007. It was originally a Danish rail ferry. Andy Cole was involved in converting the ship for its current purpose. He recalls a humorous incident during that time. A team set up scaffolds to open inspection doors high up in the main engine exhaust uptakes. Suddenly, an excited Latvian engineer came running to Andy, exclaiming, “Come see!” Andy hurried to the site to find the funnel opening filled with dead sea gulls. Those with strong stomachs cleaned out the opening. Those with weak stomachs found other pressing jobs to do.

Denis Sokolov, a Mechanic/Fitter from Lithuania, takes care of the main and auxiliary engines and equipment. His job includes welding. One day, he accidentally burned his hand. He went to the crew clinic to have his hand bandaged. Shortly afterward, someone asked him what happened. He decided to add excitement to the story, so he answered, “After burning my hand, I put it in the water to cool down the burn, and a small shark bit me!” Well, news travels fast on a ship, and within 10 minutes, Denis was surrounded by curious crew members wanting to see the “shark bite.” Life is seldom dull onboard the Africa Mercy.

The Engineering Department has its own special program for transforming lives. After an interview process, 20 local young men are hired as day-volunteers to assist in the constant cleaning, paining and watch duties. They complete a training manual that covers the basics of engine maintenance and cleaning. They are extremely grateful for the free training that provides a way for them to support themselves after the ship leaves the port.

Joseph Biney from Ghana serves as a Third Engineer Officer, and is responsible for the care of the ship’s generators and serves as an Officer on Watch during sailing. The most challenging part of his job is getting spare parts through customs. Installing those spare parts provides a wonderful opportunity to show the day-volunteers how the engines work.

Amanda Wallace, a charming young woman from California, volunteered onboard the ship for two months, serving as Second Officer. Her job kept her rather isolated on the bridge. But, during her time off, she discovered ways to touch lives. She visited orphanages, playing games and doing crafts with the children. She visited patients in the Mercy Ships Hospitality Center, an off-ship facility where patients recover from surgery or build strength prior to surgery. During a trip to the Mercy Ships dental clinic, she even held the hand of a man who was having a tooth extracted. Amanda simply said, “I want to be an encourager.”

While the Engineering Team does not work directly with the patients who receive free medical treatment on the hospital ship, they are very much aware of the patients. The hospital could not function without the vigilant support of the engineers. Andy Cole is very much aware of the big picture. He says, “We’re saving lives. We’re helping people. That spurs us on.”

For more information about our technical and special project positions available, please contact jobs(at)mercyships(dot)org

Contact Information
US Public Relations
kathy.gohmert(at)mercyships(dot)org
903-939-7019
http://www.mercyships.org

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kathy gohmert
mercy
903.574.1638
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