“It is not used for fighting or killing but for healing.”
By, Shannon A. Garrido
This Thursday 6th of November, a few students from the journalism team visited the now departed Chinese medical vessel that resided in our harbor for 8 days. Upon arriving we were introduced by mostly military men and women that gave us a tour of the boat and answered a few questions as well. To start off we asked what is the ships main purpose, what is it meant to do and how is it economically and politically sponsored. They answered that this is simply a medical service craft that is supported by the Chinese government or better yet the Chinese Navy that built and designed the ship, and their main goal is, as was said by its constituents, “to provide good service”. We asked whether there were any weapons on board seeing as this is a military vessel. Or how they choose what country needs their medical attention. These where questions that concerned the public and many who are unaware of the inner workings of the ship, they responded nonchalantly that this is a medical ship used to provide aid, so unless they are anchored at a war zone, there are usually never any weapons on board. Also depending on the requisite, whether it be a humanitarian crisis, a war zone or a country like ours that fits specific medical needs the ship is under direct control of the Chinese Government.
What were some of the medical needs the vessel focused on once arriving in the Dominican Republic? it was expressed that there is a numerous demand for Orthopedic and cardiology internal medicine here. They carry many experienced and equipped doctors, 42 on board to be exact and 78 nurses. They practice about 23 specialties and can conduct about 8 surgeries at a time.
We asked what are some of the trials they endure during the job. They timidly replied that since the Navy often recruits these men and women, they work year round and aren’t allowed to bring any family members on board with them. For every country they reach no more than one member is allowed to do some tourism each day. They are not allowed to do any fishing, “it is a part of the discipline we practice.” As said by one of the men on board. We suspect this derives from regulations imposed by the International Law of the Sea.
We were curious to know what’s been their biggest challenge while at sea. Reportedly the biggest challenge would have to be, and I quote “Oceanic issues, such as waves and a changing climate” we asked if any members have ever fallen overboard, and many responded that it happens quite often. Thankfully the military crew is trained for these sorts of circumstances. Another challenge these men and women face in every country they station, is that there is frequently a language barrier that makes it difficult to communicate with patients.
We were led to the front of the ship where all the control systems were and felt gravitated towards the communication devices. They explained that these devices are able to broadcast to other countries as well as their home base, but of course must be used with precaution due to the dangers of an inaccurate order.
We were curious to know if any births have occurred on the ship and to our surprise yes, although mostly in African countries. They say that in times of war any baby born in the ship is called a “Peace Baby”.
We asked if the vessel has ever been attacked. They explained, “Since this is a service vessel it is prohibited by the International Law of the Sea to attack or bombard it and is considered a war crime.” It was also notified that besides being a warship it is obviously used in case of a humanitarian crisis such as the one in the Philippines in 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan hit and caused catastrophic destruction on their islands especially.
To finalize our tour we were escorted to their medical helicopter, they explained its functions which where to search for those overboard, rescue patients, or to land on distant islands where the boat cannot anchor. It holds an electrocardiogram machine (ECG), optical systems and even enough room and equipment for emergency surgeries. It has enough occupancy for 15 patients, 15 service members, and 10 doctors. There are about 6 pilots on board and even though the helicopter has war time capabilities as our tour captain stated “It is not used for fighting or killing but for healing.”
The staff treated us with much respect and enthusiasm as well as allowed us enough freedom to explore the premise. The vessel is of incredible design and efficiency and has been used as a right arm for humanitarian needs all around the world, and will continue to strive as such.