U.S. unlikely to send hospital ship to Libya

Story highlights

  • Illinois senator urged government to send USNS Comfort
  • Thousands have been wounded in Libyan revolution, he says
  • Defense official says ship's capabilities, Libya's needs "are not matching up"
A senior defense official says it is "unlikely" the hospital ship USNS Comfort will be deployed to assist in Libya's humanitarian crisis.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, called on Thursday for the U.S. government to send the Comfort to the waters off Libya.
"One thing they asked us that we should provide is a hospital ship," Kirk said. "The USNS Comfort should be allowed to go to Libya, to care for those who were wounded in this battle. We were told 25,000 citizens of Libya had died in this revolution; 60,000 were wounded. The United States should help care for them, and the Libyan government should reimburse us for that effort."
But the defense official says the needs of the Libyan people and the capabilities of the Comfort "are not matching up right now. Just having a hospital ship doesn't mean needs are being met."
The Comfort is normally kept pierside in Baltimore, with a skeleton crew of 18 civil mariners and 50 U.S. Navy medical personnel. Once it is tasked for a mission, those numbers swell to 60 civil mariners and up to 1,200 military medical personnel. But it takes 96 hours for the Comfort to mobilize, and then it would have to steam to the area of the world where it's needed.
The Navy says that despite Kirk's call, it has received no official tasking to mobilize the Comfort. But a senior Navy official says the ship was one of many options put forth in response to a military-wide call to examine each service's assets and what they could provide "if needed."
The Navy official says they began looking at those options weeks ago, well before the death of Moammar Gadhafi.
"The decision to deploy the Comfort is more deliberate," the Navy official says, "and sending it forward is a lot different than sending a fully crewed ship that's already out to sea."
The senior defense official says no final decision has been made on deploying the Comfort.
Both officials would speak only on the condition that their names not be used, as they were not authorized to speak on the record.