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22 photos of the incredible floating hospital that can care for 1,000 patients at once

The U.S. Navy owns the oceans, ensuring freedom of navigation for allies and fighting fiercely when called upon.


But the Navy has a softer side too, filled with humanitarian relief and medical missions.The crown jewels of this effort are the USNS Mercy and the USNS Comfort — hospital ships with a thousand beds each.

1. The USNS Mercy and her sister ship were converted from massive supertankers. Each is 70,000 metric tons.

Photo: Department of Defense

2. The Mercy is a mobile hospital, complete with 12 operating rooms as well as pediatric, trauma, and orthopedic areas.

Photo: Department of Defense Kristopher Radder

3. While the Navy maintains hospital ships to provide mobile care to soldiers and Marines fighting ashore, the USNS Mercy has been primarily deployed on humanitarian missions in the Pacific.

Photo: Department of Defense

4. Mercy is often deployed to Pacific areas where clinics, like the one below, provide basic care. Doctors can refer the patients to the USNS Mercy, which will then provide hospital-level services.

Photo: Department of Defense

5. Patients are transported to the ship by helicopter or by "band-aid" boats.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Michael Feddersen

6. When patients arrive, they are sent to the receiving area. Their medical needs will be diagnosed and they are then sent elsewhere on the ship for care.

Photo: US Navy JoAnna Delfin

7. When doctors need a better look at an injury, the use the onboard CT scanner.

Photo: US Navy JoAnna Delfin

8. For patients that require surgery, the 12 operating bays provide a modern, sterile environment for procedures.

Photo: Department of Defense

9. Here, a doctor puts the final sutures in a patient after removing a six pound tumor from her.

Photo: US Navy Kristopher Radder

10. The ship regularly trains for mass casualty events. This helps them support military operations where a lot of troops may be wounded and respond to humanitarian crises.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Justin W. Galvin

11. Children are welcome on the ship where onboard pediatricians treat them.

Photo: Department of Defense

12. A pre-dental society sophomore student from the University of California-San Diego plays with a Timorese child during Pacific Partnership 2008.

Photo: Department of Defense

13. A hospital corpsman gives a surgical screening to a child onboard the USNS Mercy in 2010.

Photo: Department of Defense

14. Humans aren't the only patients for the USNS Mercy. The ship deploys with U.S. Army veterinarians and veterinary assistants for treating livestock and pets as well.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Ryan Clement

15. Pets and nearby wildlife can be a vector for disease, so the services of the veterinary staff help protect the human population.

Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Peter Reft

16. The Mercy maintains its own combat search and rescue helicopter and crew.

Photo: US Marine Corps Sgt. Valerie Eppler

17. Sailors launch and recover the birds from the upper deck of the ship.

Photo: US Navy Kristopher Radder

18. Even foreign military doctors help out aboard the USNS Mercy. In this photo, an Australian Navy dentist treats patients onboard.

Photo: Department of Defense

19. A dentist with the South Korean Navy treats a patient onboard the Mercy.

Photo: Department of Defense

20. The USNS Mercy crew also goes ashore to help partner nations. Here, an environmental health officer tests a water well that was just dug by Navy Seabees.

Photo: Department of Defense

21. The Mercy has its own firefighters who ensure the safety of the other sailors and patients on the ship.

Photo: US Navy Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Roadell Hickman

22. Check out the infographic below to learn more about the ship and its mission in the Pacific Partnership.

Illustration: US Navy