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Hospital ship to open doors during goodwill tour pause

The Caribbean Mercy welcomes public visits and is seeking volunteers and donations during its stop here.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE and JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 28, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- The M/V Caribbean Mercy, one of a fleet of hospital ships that sails to poor port cities throughout the world, delivering food, medical supplies and services and the Christian gospel, docked at the Port of St. Petersburg last week so the public can see what it does.

For the past four months, the ship provided humanitarian aid in Puerto Cortes, Honduras.

The Caribbean Mercy, which is docked between an oceangoing barge and a luxury yacht, is open for public tours at the Passenger Cruise Terminal, 250 Eighth Ave. SE.

Before its arrival at 10:35 a.m. Thursday, the 265-foot ship was delayed for a time by fog at the mouth of Tampa Bay. But with its 15-foot draft, the vessel had no trouble getting into the port, which can accommodate ships with drafts of up to 24 feet, port director Mike Perez said.

Dock fees in the amount of $4,845 for the ship were waived, which is typical when humanitarian vessels come to ports and space is available, Perez said.

"We're honored to have it here," said Perez, noting that the visit marks the first time a humanitarian ship has docked here for several years. It will be in port until Nov. 13, he said.

"It is a goodwill tour," Renee Moore said late last week. Moore is a member of Caribbean Mercy's advance team based at D&D Missionary Homes Inc., 4020 58th Ave. N.

She added, however, that the ship's crew also will be recruiting volunteers and asking for donations -- "everything from paper clips to trucks" -- to help with its work.

Among the supplies needed are blank floppy disks, Scotch tape, black markers, three-ring binders, a Book of Matthew videotape in Spanish, Christian CDs, Ziploc bags, garbage bags, toilet paper and eye charts.

Ms. Moore said volunteers can work for up to six months on the ship without being required to undergo formal training.

"A husband and wife and their children sailed with the ship for two months during the summer," she said.

About 50 percent of the volunteers on the Caribbean Mercy are American. Others are from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya and other countries. The crew, made up of volunteers, includes engineers, housekeepers and paramedics. An equal number of volunteers, such as doctors, meet the ship at various ports to offer their services, Ms. Moore said.

Meanwhile, many in the 87-member crew were interested in finding local restaurants, port director Perez said.

"There is definitely some economic impact for the merchants, hotels and restaurants," he said.

City fire officials inspected the five-story ship Thursday.

"I told them, "You guys did a heck of a parking job,' " said fire inspector Larry McGevna, referring to the Caribbean Mercy's position between the other two vessels. He said the ship was built in 1952.

Everything checked out fine during the inspection, McGevna said. It was done mainly to make sure that in case of a blaze aboard the ship, St. Petersburg's firefighting equipment could hook up properly to the ship's, he said.

The Rev. Anthony Oliver, a missionary to the Caribbean and the United States and a native of Trinidad, blessed the ship upon its arrival Thursday. Oliver, who is based in St. Petersburg, welcomed area pastors to the ship during breakfast Friday.

Thursday afternoon the ship held a reception for about 100 civic officials.

They included St. Petersburg City Council member Earnest Williams, Pinellas County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd, Tampa mayoral assistant Curtis Lane and representatives from the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

The high attendance was an answer to prayer, Ms. Moore said.

"It was strictly the favor of the Lord," she said.

If you go

Until its departure on Nov. 13, the Caribbean Mercy will be open for public tours, 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays, 1 to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays.

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