Mercy ships logo

Mercy Ships is an international charity that was founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens. Mercy Ships currently operates the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world,[1] providing free health care, community development projects, community health education, mental health programs, agriculture projects, and palliative care for terminally ill patients.

Mercy Ships has operated in more than 70 developing nations around the world,[2] with a current focus on the countries of West Africa.[3]

The organization has its International Operations Center (IOC) in Garden Valley, Texas. Mercy Ships also has 16 national resource offices in countries that include Spain, Britain, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Australia.

A major inspiration for Mercy Ships founder and President Don Stephens was the work of the international hospital ship SS Hope. Stephens' research showed that 95 of the 100 largest cities in the world were port cities. Therefore, a hospital ship could deliver healthcare very efficiently to large numbers of people. The birth of Stephens' profoundly disabled son, John Paul, also inspired him to move forward with his vision of a floating hospital. A visit with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, further deepened his commitment to serving the world's neediest people.[4]

The Africa MercyModifica


The Africa Mercy, in service from 2007 to the present.

Mercy Ships currently has one vessel in service: the 16,500-ton flagship Africa Mercy,[5] which measures almost 500 feet long.[6] The Africa Mercy has greater capacity than all three previous Mercy Ships combined.[7]

The Africa Mercy is currently serving in Lomé, Togo, for the first months of its 2012 Field Service. The ship docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone for its 2011 field service,[8] which lasted for 10 months.[9] At the conclusion of each field service, the Africa Mercy goes into dry dock, where it is resupplied and receives any needed repairs or upgrades before heading to its next port of call.[10] The Africa Mercy is scheduled to dock in Guinea during the second half of 2012.[11]

Early in 2010, the ship was docked in Lomé, Togo for the 2010 field service. In August 2010, the Africa Mercy went into shipyard in South Africa, where it was equipped with new, more efficient generators. In 2009, the ship was docked in Cotonou, Benin from February to December, providing free surgeries and medical care. Mercy Ships also worked with Beninese citizens on agriculture and water development projects on the ground in Benin. In 2007, the ship made its official maiden voyage to Monrovia, Liberia, from the shipyard in England.[12] In 2008, the Africa Mercy continued its service to Liberia--offering free surgeries, assistance in healthcare infrastructure development, and community-based preventive health care programs that benefited thousands of individuals and many communities. More than 1,200 surgical procedures and 10,000 dental procedures were completed, along with community health projects such as HIV/AIDS prevention and construction of wells and latrines.

Before the Africa Mercy arrives in port, flyers are distributed to alert the public to the ship's upcoming visit. An advance team begins a massive screening of thousands of prospective patients, to see which men, women and children qualify for a surgery. It is common for people to walk for days (and even from neighboring countries) to find out whether they may be eligible for surgical treatment.[13]

Medical CapabilitiesModifica

Medical personnel on the Africa Mercy provide surgeries and health care to treat a wide range of problems, including cleft lip and palate, cataract, crossed eyes (Strabismus), bowed legs (genu varum), burns and burn scars, dental problems and obstetric fistula repair for injuries sustained during childbirth.[14] Many of these ailments are extremely severe because patients have had little prior access to medical care.[15] In addition, people with disfiguring medical conditions have often been shunned by their communities, so medical treatment from Mercy Ships can also help relieve the stigma and isolation that they have experienced.[16]

The lower decks of the Africa Mercy are equipped with six operating theaters, a 78-bed recovery ward, two CT scanners, an X-ray machine and a laboratory. During its field service in Sierra Leone between February and November 2011, the Africa Mercy crew performed more than 3,300 surgeries, 27,800 general medical and eye consultations, 2,600 eye operations and 34,700 dental procedures. They also trained more than 12,600 people in health care professions, basic health care instruction, agriculture and church leadership.[17] In addition, Mercy Ships increased health care delivery systems by renovating in-country pediatric and general hospital facilities.

On the upper decks of the Africa Mercy,[18] the ship has 126 cabins that provide accommodations for 484 crew, including families, couples and individuals. The ship is equipped with a day care center, an accredited academy for all grades through senior year of high school, a library, a launderette, a small supermarket, a restaurant, a gymnasium, shops and a donated Starbucks cafe. A fleet of 28 vehicles travels with the ship, for use in Mercy Ships land-based operations.[19]

Expanding Medical CapacityModifica

In addition to providing free surgical, medical and dental care, Mercy Ships is committed to investing in local health care infrastructure in ways that will continue to have a positive impact long after the ship leaves port. By developing medical facilities on land and training local personnel, Mercy Ships ensures that increased medical care can be provided after the Africa Mercy departs from its host country.

In Sierra Leone during its 2011 Field Service, Mercy Ships donated three modular buildings to Rokupa Government Hospital in Freetown, providing a new Tuberculosis, Leprosy and HIV Outpatient Department, a Cholera Treatment Centre, offices and storage space. Mercy Ships also donated a drill rig to Living Water Sierra Leone, a Mercy Ships partner that provides shallow well drilling, pump repair and hygiene education.[20].

During its 2010 Field Service in Lomé, Togo, Mercy Ships extensively renovated a clinic to create a Hospital Out-Patient (HOPE) Center for Mercy Ships patients recovering from surgery. When the Africa Mercy departed from Togo, the updated facility became a clinic for the Ministry of Health.


The volunteer crew of the Africa Mercy is made up of 450 volunteers at a time who hail from more than 40 nations.[21] The total number of volunteers in all locations for the organization is about 1,200. About 200 Africans serve as day workers on the ship.[22] In addition to the medical volunteers on the Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships also sends medical crews to aid at natural disaster sites such as the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.[23]

Mercy Ships offers short-term (two weeks to two years) and long-term (minimum two years) volunteer opportunities.[24] Mercy Ships needs volunteers for both medical and non-medical jobs. Due to the nature of the ship, positions for surgeons, dentists, and nurses are often readily available, but jobs such as seamen, teachers, cooks, engineers and agriculturalists are also available.[25] Volunteer crew often serve as blood donors, since there is a high demand for donated blood due to limited space to maintain a blood bank onboard.[26]


In 1991, the government of Togo became the first African nation to invite the Mercy Ship Anastasis (which is now retired) to dock and provide free surgical care. The 2012 Field Service in Lomé, Togo, marks the fifth visit of Mercy Ships to the West African country. During the five-month stay in port, the ship’s volunteer medical crew expects to provide more than 1,250 free surgeries, 11,000 free dental procedures and the training of 900 local representatives. Mercy Ships will also make new upgrades to the facilities of the Lomé clinic that serves as its 40-bed HOPE (Hospital Out-Patient) Center for post-surgical recovery, which will then return to use as a Ministry of Health Clinic when the Africa Mercy departs.[27]

Sierra LeoneModifica

Mano River Union

Sierra Leone

Mercy Ships vessels have visited Sierra Leone five times, beginning in 1992. Mercy Ships has tailored its work in Sierra Leone to support the country's National Health Sector Strategic Plan, which aims to strengthen the national health system.[28]

In December 2011, Mercy Ships signed on as a full partner to a Health Agreement with Sierra Leone, focusing on improving the country’s principal hospitals. The agreement calls for Mercy Ships to focus on upgrading medical and surgical services, patient recordkeeping and the physical conditions of hospital buildings and infrastructure.[29]

The organization's partner in Sierra Leone is the Aberdeen Women's Centre, formerly the Aberdeen West Africa Fistula Center. The Aberdeen Women's Centre is one of the few locations on the African continent offering obstetric fistula repair for women who have been injured during childbirth.[30] Started by Mercy Ships with the Ministry of Health, Addax Foundation and other partners, the Fistula Centre is now operated by the Gloag Foundation (UK).

Past Mercy ShipsModifica

The Anastasis

The MV Anastasis, retired in 2007

Mercy Ships has outfitted and operated a total of four hospital ships to serve developing nations since 1978. The organization uses retired ocean liners and ferries that have been transformed into floating hospitals.[31]

The first ocean liner acquired was the Victoria, which was purchased for its scrap value of US$1 million. The nine-deck vessel was transformed into the hospital ship MV Anastasis over a four-year period. The 522-foot ship was equipped with three operating rooms, a dental clinic, an x-ray machine, a laboratory[32] and 40 patient beds. The ship's 350-member crew included Mercy Ships founders Don and Deyon Stephens, who lived on board the ship with their four young children for ten years.[33]

In 1983, the Anastasis (the Greek word for "resurrection") began operations in the South Pacific, then moved to Central America and the Caribbean Sea in the mid-80’s. The ship moved on to Africa in 1991[34] and remained in service there until 2007, when it was replaced by the new Africa Mercy. The final port of call for the Anastasis was Monrovia, Liberia. In May 2007, the Africa Mercy sailed into the port in Monrovia to meet up with the Anastasis, enabling crew, equipment and supplies to be transferred from the oldest Mercy Ship to the newest one.

Mercy Ships purchased the Norwegian coastal ferry Polarlys in 1994 and transformed it into the MV Caribbean Mercy, a hospital ship serving Central American and Caribbean ports. The ship offered berths for 150 crew and was equipped initially for field medical clinics. Over the course of several years, the ship was equipped with modern eye-surgery capabilities. The first eye surgery was performed on board The Caribbean Mercy in early 1997, while the ship was docked in Guatemala. On land, volunteers from the Caribbean Mercy also provided dental, orthopedic and healthcare services. The Caribbean Mercy visited 138 ports of call[35] and remained in service until May 2005.[36]


MV Island Mercy, retired in 2001

In 1983, the Canadian ferry Petite Forte was donated to Mercy Ships to provide relief operations in the Caribbean. Initially christened the Good Samaritan,[37] the ship was re-christened the MV Island Mercy in 1994. The 60-berth vessel remained in service until spring of 2001. The countries it served included Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Guyana and Haiti. The ship also reached beyond the Caribbean with relief and medical operations in Guinea-Bissau, Western Samoa, the Tokelau Islands and New Zealand.[38]

Mercy Ships StatisticsModifica

Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the forgotten poor, mobilizing people and resources worldwide. The organization treats all patients without cost, and without regard to their religion, race or gender.[39]

Mercy Ships vessels have completed over 564 port visits in 53 developing nations and 17 developed nations. Its volunteers have performed services valued at more than $1 billion, impacting about 2.35 million people. Mercy Ships volunteers have performed more than 61,000 free operations, such as cleft lip and palate, cataract removal, straightening of crossed eyes, and orthopedic and facial reconstruction. Volunteers have performed 278,000 dental procedures for more than 109,000 dental patients.

The organization is active on land, as well as on board the ship. Volunteers have treated over 539,000 patients in mobile medical and dental clinics set up in the communities near ports where the hospital ship has docked. They have also have trained more than 29,400 local medical professionals in areas of specialization, including anesthesiology, midwifery, sterilization and surgery. Volunteers have educated about 5,770 local healthcare workers, who have in turn trained multiple thousands in primary healthcare. Volunteers have also taught basic health care to more than 150,000 local people. As of spring 2011, volunteers have completed nearly 1,100 community development projects focusing on water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture.[40]

Mercy Ships is a Better Business Bureau accredited charity.[41] Originally a part of the YWAM (Youth with a Mission) family of Christian ministries, Mercy Ships is now a standalone organization.[42] Mercy Ships has built a broad base of financial support, beginning with donations from the public and from crew members. Medical companies donate pharmaceuticals, equipment and supplies to Mercy Ships. Corporations also make in-kind donations of materials such as fuel, food and building supplies. In addition, governments that work with Mercy Ships also waive port fees and associated costs for the ship to dock.[43]


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