GARDEN VALLEY — Collateral hardship from the Ebola epidemic now includes a delay for Smith County-based Mercy Ships, which operates the world’s largest civilian hospital ship in ports on the West Coast of Africa. Already with one canceled deployment to Guinea, where Ebola first broke out last December, the Mercy Ship now waits in the water with crew and staff, pending an end-of-August decision on field service in Benin. The Mercy Ship was due to sail for the port of Cotonou, Benin, for its 10-month field service last week but has delayed that sail pending further assessment due to the virulence of the outbreak in neighboring Nigeria. Earlier, in April, Mercy Ships made what officials term the difficult decision to cancel the hospital ship’s planned deployment to Guinea, where the Ebola outbreak began last December.
Currently docked in the Canary Islands, following the vessel’s annual maintenance phase, the 16,500-ton Mercy Ship is designed to deploy specialized surgical expertise and educational support. It is unequipped to treat viral epidemics, according to the charity’s president and founder Don Stephens. “Multi-bed wards and limited isolation facilities, close proximity to crew accommodation and dining for families and children are but a few restraints,” Stephens said. “We also hire 200 day crew in each port as part of our training and capacity building for Africa.” Stephens said the organization is closely monitoring the situation on the whole of the African continent.