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World Maritime Day: Mercy Ships recognizes role of maritime volunteers

Written by Shirley Del
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Mercy Ships volunteer Second Officer Eric Baliantz onboard the Africa Mercy

September 27, 2018 — On World Maritime Day, Mercy Ships recognizes the critical role of maritime crew in the history of the global charity and their future continued success.  For 40 years, Mercy Ships has relied on maritime volunteers for the safe operation and maintenance of their hospital ships, safety of their crew and patients, and delivery and storage of cargo including needed medical supplies and equipment. 

To date, the unwavering dedication of maritime men and women has enabled Mercy Ships to provide over 95,000 free surgeries and the delivery of services and materials valued at over $1.53 billion in low and middle-income nations.

The world’s largest private hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, is staffed by 29 deck and 24 engineering crew, including Deck Officer Eric Baliantz.

On World Maritime Day, Baliantz encourages mariners to volunteer with Mercy Ships. Why? Because the experience changes lives for the better.

“You see the patients coming, and their disfigurements are just horrible,” says Baliantz. “Some have giant watermelon-sized tumors on their face and others, their bones are all bent the wrong way. Some people are blind, and Mercy Ships works to restore their sight. I like feeling I’m a part of something that’s doing good work. Mercy Ships gives you the opportunity to be the best version of yourself.”

The Africa Mercy is currently docked in Conakry, Guinea for the next 10 months where crew plan on providing over 2,000 surgeries.  After receiving free surgeries onboard, the patients leave physically and emotionally healed and transformed.

One prime example of Mercy Ships’ success includes two sisters named Salamatou and Mariama who both developed windswept deformity in their legs, making it difficult to walk and attend school. The girls had never left their mountain village but when the Africa Mercy docked near their village in Mount Manengouba, Cameroon earlier this year, the sisters and their parents knew they had to make the journey—a 100-mile trek on horseback— to the ship for the free surgery. Both girls had successful surgeries and were able to walk the very next day.

 Sisters MercyShips 1

The deck and engineering crew also play a vital role in maintaining the ship and keeping all its services functioning for the surgeries and the safety of the 400 crew volunteers onboard from 40 nations.  The engineering crew literally keep the lights on for surgery in the five state-of-the-art operating rooms onboard.

“It goes without saying – Mercy ships would not exist today without the dedicated deck and engineering officers who have labored long and hard to make this organization what it is today,” says Jim Paterson, Senior Vice President of Operations for Mercy Ships.  “I don’t believe we have ever missed one full day of surgery due to technical issues thanks to our dedicated Marine crew. Our mission to provide free surgeries and healthcare training for local medical professionals would be impossible without them. We encourage more mariners to volunteer to help us bring hope and healing to Africa.  We currently have urgent needs for both deck and engineering crew.”

Opportunities to volunteer are available at http://apply.mercyships.org/ and more information can be seen on the Mercy Ships Deck & Engineering Facebook page.  

The 2018 theme for World Maritime Day celebrates the heritage of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).  This same year, Mercy Ships celebrates their own heritage of 40 years of providing hope and healing. The contributions of maritime volunteers has been and will continue to be vital to providing free surgeries for some of the 5 billion people in the world affected by a global surgery crisis who do not have access to safe and timely surgery. 


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