GLOBAL MERCY more than doubles Mercy Ships’ humanitarian capacity, but it also creates an urgent need for more maritime volunteers. Particularly engineers and navigators are in short supply.
This year, the title of the world’s largest operational civilian hospital ship will be snatched from the former Great Belt ferry AFRICA MERCY. The former DSB ferry has become much more well-known in Denmark as the world’s largest civilian hospital ship than as the Great Belt-ferry DRONING INGRID.
Therefore, the Danish country office of Mercy Ships Denmark for the American-based humanitarian aid organisation Mercy Ships’, actually plays a vital role in recruiting both seafarers and health professionals. With a crew of up to 450 people, the organisations country offices are in for a major ongoing task when AFRICA MERCY is to be kept operational in West Africa 9 months a year.
However, the title will this year be transferred to Mercy Ships’ newly built hospital ship GLOBAL MERCY, which has a significantly larger treatment capacity than that of AFRICA MERCY. The crew aboard the new ship will be also almost 35% larger, which is more than 600 people. So, as GLOBAL MERCY is not to replace AFRICA MERCY, but only to boost Mercy Ships’ overall capacity, they have a rather challenging recruitment task ahead.
Opportunities and challenges
”We now have two active ships, which provide an incredible number of opportunities for our humanitarian efforts, but it also presents some challenges. We need to more than double the number of volunteers, and we are basically in the same situation as ordinary shipping companies, which find it difficult to recruit seafarers – especially engineers and navigators,” Milan Falsing explains.
GLOBAL MERCY represents an investment of USD 200 million – an amount that has been continuously collected from donors around the world. The contract with the Chinese shipyard Tianjin Xingang was entered into in 2013 under the project name “Atlantic Mercy”. The donor-based financing meant that the progress of the newbuild project was slower than normal. Therefore, the new hospital ship was not launched until 2018, under its real name ‘GLOBAL MERCY. In the spring of 2021, the sea trial could finally be completed before delivery in August of the same year. On 12 September last year, ‘GLOBAL MERCY arrived in Antwerp, Belgium, where almost 7 months’ work was completed to fit out the hospital section. So, on 26 February this year, a newbuild hospital ship arrived in Rotterdam in all its glory. Europe’s largest and most important port had been chosen as the venue to attract as much public attention as possible for the project, and it was open for the public until mid-March. After Rotterdam, GLOBAL MERCY sailed on the penultimate phase of the delivery voyage before the ship transitioned to operational status and thus snatched the title as the world’s largest operational civilian hospital ship from AFRICA MERCY. This penultimate journey took the ship to Granadilla, Tenerife, which serves as a base for Mercy Ships’ activities in West Africa. Later this year, when the ship is fully mobilised in Granadilla, it will be put into active service in Dakar, Senegal.
Milan has volunteered for AFRICA MERCY three times, most recently in 2019 as captain. Now he is the contact person at Mercy Ships Denmark for Danish seafarers who would like to volunteer with Mercy Ships. He does the job as a board member in the Danish country office in addition to his full-time job at the Danish Maritime Authority.
”Our immediate starting point for recruitment may seem completely upside down, as you are not paid, but you actually have to pay to work for us. This applies to all professional groups on board, and counting all types of volunteers, we actually received around 5,000 applications globally last year, but some professional groups are significantly more difficult to get hold of than others, for instance, engineers and other technical staff,” he explains.
”However, on the other hand, we offer something exceptional because you get so incredibly much in return when you give something to other people, as you do, regardless of what function you have in the operation of the hospital ship. I can testify to that myself,” Milan emphasises.
The length of the enlistment onboard can vary from a few weeks to several years. It is up to the individual person to decide, and it may also depend on the function to be filled. Headquartered in the United States, Mercy Ships operates on a Christian basis. In the United States, there is a widespread tradition that the local church community raises funds to send volunteers to organisations like Mercy Ships.
In Denmark and in Europe in general, this tradition is less widespread, but volunteers can also base their deployment on foundation funds or may be paid by their regular employer as part of the company’s CSR policy. Finally, there are also many examples of professionals such as surgeons, who are at the end of their working career and finance their despatch themselves.
Do you have to be a Christian?
How does it affect everyday life on board that it is a Christian organisation – do you have to be a Christian to work onboard?
”No, everyone can join us. What is required is that you want to make a difference and that you believe in the concept of charity. In my opinion, charity is not connected to religion, and I also think that religion is a very personal thing. For some people, it’s almost all about embracing all people – while others practice their belief in a much more introverted way.”
”So it’s basically about having the desire and the will to make a difference,” he emphasises.
Some people may associate an American Christian organisation with something a little “over the top” from an average Danish cultural Christian point of view – is there truth to that prejudice?
”No, if you normally go to church on Christmas Eve, you will have a fairly good idea of what you will find at Mercy Ships. There are ceremonies on Sundays, but it is completely voluntary whether you wish to attend. People on board respect the fact that religion is a personal matter, and they also respect diversity.”
”We expect that people have an open mind and can accommodate people who are different from themselves, and accept other people’s choices. The fundamental thing is that you have to support charity, which is the organisation’s ethos,” Milan explains.
The GLOBAL MERCY joins the organization’s current hospital ship, the AFRICA MERCY. With this new ship, Mercy Ships desire is to double its impact, both with life-changing surgeries, as well as through education and training of local healthcare providers in Africa. When both ships are in full service, Mercy Ships hopes to perform more than 5,000 surgeries, more than 28,000 dental treatments annually, and train more than 2,800 medical professionals a year. The GLOBAL MERCY is 174 meters long and 28.6 meters wide. It has six operating rooms, 200 beds, a laboratory, general outpatient clinics and eye and dental clinics. The total area of the hospital department is 7,000 square meters. The ship can accommodate 950 people when docked, including up to 641 crew members, who are made up of volunteers from all over the world. In addition to the hospital, the ship contains the latest training facilities. For more than 30 years Mercy Ships has contributed to the sustainable development of local medical care throughout West and Central Africa.