Liberia

Liberia: World's largest charity hospital ship is set to sail

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The world's largest non-governmental hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, is set to sail to Africa - following eight years of conversion work and global fundraising.

The former Danish rail ferry, has been converted into a state-of-the-art hospital ship at a cost of over £30million and will provide free healthcare and community development services to the poorest people of Africa. The Africa Mercy is due to sail on its inaugural trip to Liberia on May 4.

UK based philanthropist, Ann Gloag, who has donated substantially to the project, said today: "When I originally put up the first donation to buy the ship I knew it would be a long, tough project and it certainly has been. However when you consider that this ship used to be a rail ferry and is now a state-of-the-art hospital ship, all the hard work has been well worthwhile."

The Africa Mercy is the fourth ship to be operated by the international charity, Mercy Ships, which has provided more than £350million worth of services since its inception in 1978.

More than 400 volunteer crew will be taking part in the ships first field service in Africa providing free medical care, capacity building, relief aid and community development programmes to the people of war-torn Liberia.

£1million worth of hospital supplies, equipment and materials have been loaded onto the ship in the last week, transforming this vessel from an empty shell into a state-of-the-art hospital ship and small village. In addition to the hospital supplies, essential goods including 3000 toilet rolls (three month supply), 400 waste paper bins, 26.8 tons of frozen meat and fish (4 months supply), 420kg of coffee courtesy of Starbucks and 4,000kg of breakfast cereal have been loaded.

The projected surgical capacity onboard the Africa Mercy is approximately 7,000 operations per year including, cataract removal/lens implant, tumour removal, cleft lip and palate reconstruction, orthopaedics and obstetric fistula repair.

Over the years Mercy Ships has treated more than 200,000 people in village medical clinics; performing more than 32,000 surgeries and 180,000 dental treatments; and completing more than 800 construction, agriculture and water development projects.

Judy Polkinhorn, Executive Director, Mercy Ships UK, said: "A huge thank you goes out to everyone who has been involved in the whole project from start to finish. It is a great pleasure to know that the ship will be sailing to Africa shortly to carry out life saving treatments and giving hope back to thousands of families in the poorest communities of the world. We have all been working so hard over the last eight years to get to this stage and to finally see the ship in its completed state is marvellous. "

Her Excellency Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, President of Liberia, Africa said: "The young people of our nation were once ostracized, rejected in their community, and ashamed to go around because of their disfigurement. Now, because of the work of Mercy Ships, they can once again become a part of their community, their church, their school, their work and I thank you for your every effort in making this happen."

Lord Ian McColl, Chairman of Mercy Ships UK and Vice-Chair of Mercy Ships International, said today: "This is a truly momentous day for Mercy Ships. I have worked as a volunteer surgeon on many occasions with Mercy Ships and I am very much looking forward to working on this purposely converted sate-of-the-art hospital ship. The life changing operations that we undertake are common practice in developed countries but are simply not available to the poorest people in Africa."

Don Stephens, Founder of Mercy Ships said: "There has been an endless amount of fundraising taking place all over the world and without such, this project would not have been possible. Many thanks go out to all donors who have assisted in this project, the largest ever undertaken by Mercy Ships since the inception of the charity. Without the Africa Mercy so many of the poor faced life without hope but once this ship docks in Africa, a strong symbol of hope will be present."

A massive boost to the project came in the form of a £6million matching grant donated by The Oak Foundation, with Mercy Ships Board Members and their associates having contributed well over 50 per cent of the £20million plus raised to date. There is also continuing support from Ann Gloag's Balcraig Foundation, which has donated in excess of £7.5million.

All the crew on board the Africa Mercy will be volunteer professionals from around the world who pay monthly room and board costs while volunteering. Doctors, dentists, nurses, community developers, teachers, builders, cooks, seamen, engineers, and many others will donate their time and skills to the effort.

For further information on Mercy Ships, please visit our website at http://www.mercyships.org.uk where the full press pack is available for download from the following link http://www.mercyships.org.uk/en/press_e.php

For further information, please contact Jack Irvine or Lorna Inglis at Media House on Jack mob: 07860 457 456 or Lorna mob: 07813 193 618

Note to Editors:

1. Hi-res photographs of the Africa Mercy are available to download from http://www.mercyships.org/site/c.agLOI4OFKrF/b.1078391/k.8220/HiRes_Images.htm

B'roll footage is available to download from above

Please note you will have to provide login details - please use the following - Email: lorna@mediahouse.co.uk Password: new123

2. Mercy Ships, the International Christian Charity was founded by Don and Deyon Stephens in 1978. Mercy Ships UK is chaired by Lord Ian McColl and Mercy Ships International Board is chaired by Myron "Mike" Ullman, III and vice chaired by Lord McColl and William Kanaga.

3. Mercy Ships, a global charity, is the leader in using hospital ships to deliver free world-class healthcare and community development services. Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the forgotten poor, mobilising people and resources worldwide.

4. The story of Mercy Ships is told in Ships of Mercy, published by Hodder & Stoughton UK and Thomas Nelson US and is available at: http://www.shipsofmercy.org

5. Acquired in 1999 through a donation from the Scottish Balcraig Foundation, the former Danish rail ferry 'Droning Ingrid' was re-named the Africa Mercy by Dame Norma Major in April 2000. The $62million (approx £30m) refit was funded by donations from the Oak Foundation of Switzerland, continuing support from the Balcraig Foundation and other trusts, corporate gift-in-kind and individual contributors. The conversion was completed at A & P Shipyard, Newcastle-upon-Tyne in March 2007 and was the largest conversion project of its kind in the UK. A comparable new vessel would be more than double this price.

6. Africa Mercy - facts

- Formerly 'Droning Ingrid'

- 16,572 tonnes

- 474 berths for crew

- 78 bed ward

- 6 operating theatres

- X-ray room

- CT scanner

- Dental clinic

- Pharmacy

- School - up to 60 pupils

- Length: 499 feet

- Breadth: 78 feet