PH Red Cross’ disaster response ship is truly amazing

May 11, 2017 - 8:21 AM

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…

PASAY CITY, Philippines — When disaster strikes, there is undoubtedly no sweeter sound than that of approaching rescue. And this is what the MV Amazing Grace, the Philippine Red Cross’ disaster response ship, intends to deliver.

Senator Richard Gordon, PRC chairman, said Amazing Grace is not only the first ambulance and disaster response vessel in the country, “it is the only ship of its kind being run by the Red Cross Society all over the world.”

Philippine Red Cross chairman and Sen. Richard Gordon gives the media and foreign members of the Red Cross Society a tour of the MV Amazing Grace.

The 195-foot catamaran is literally a multi-role vessel: rapid transport and landing vessel, relief supply transport ship, mobile operations command post, humanitarian education and training ship, hospital with medical facility deployment, sea rescue vessel, and humanitarian logistics ship.

“It’s a humanitarian vessel. We can bring hospitals. We can bring patients. We can bring it ashore and tend to the wounded in case of conflict,” Gordon told a press conference at Philippine Navy headquarters for the vessel’s media tour on Monday.

Maritime Academy of Asia and Pacific’s Capt. Rodolfo Raz demonstrates how to operate the MV Amazing Grace.

Able to carry 120 passengers and either 20 ambulances or six cargo trucks, Amazing Grace can land on beaches in water as shallow as four feet and lower its main deck to unload equipment like a roll-on/roll-off vessel ship.

Instead of the traditional wheel, the computerized vessel is steered with a joystick that looks much like a video game controller. Volunteer captain Rodolfo Raz of the Maritime Academy of Asia and the Pacific, all it takes is a crew of six, who can be drawn from maritime schools as part of their training, to man Amazing Grace.

The joystick with which the Amazing Grace is steered.

The PRC realized the need for such a shop after experiencing the difficulty of quickly delivering aid to areas that were cut off after super typhoon Yolanda in 2013 closed down roads, airports and seaports.

To give a glimpse of what Amazing Grace can be expected to do, the PRC held a rescue simulation, with boats steered by Red Cross volunteers rescuing passengers from a capsized vessel and transferring them to the ship for immediate treatment.

Red Cross volunteers simulate a sea rescue as part of the tour of the MV Amazing Grace.

Constructed in 2010 as a US military prototype vessel, the ship was once known as MV Susitna. She was supposed to be donated as a ferry service in Alaska but had to be put up for sale due to a lack of funds and terminals.

The PRC purchased her for $1.75 million and Gordon said the PRC relies on donations and partnerships to underwrite the ship’s maintenance and fuel costs.

Her new name, coined by 27-year old nurse and Red Cross volunteer Raymond Papa, was chosen from among the entries submitted to the #NameThatRedCrossShip contest last month.

Explaining his entry, Papa said Amazing Grace, the hymn, “was written to spread the message that forgiveness and redemption are possible regardless of one’s background or sins committed … We should be a nation that sails together towards a common goal of serving humanity with no personal vested interest.”

A ‘victim’ is hoisted onto the MV Amazing Grace after being rescued by Red Cross volunteers during a simulation.

Gordon said the name embodied the principles of the humanitarian organization.

“‘Amazing Grace’ is what the Red Cross is all about,” he said. “It’s not the name of a person, it’s a name of a value, of an effort, of an energy, of a cause to drive people to do good things without being asked.”

Gordon hoped the ship will inspire the youth to volunteer for the Red Cross.

A Red Cross volunteer performs cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a ‘victim’ onboard the MV Amazing Grace during a sea rescue simulation.

He said the PRC is willing to lend the ship to the government for humanitarian use.

The following day, President Rodrigo Duterte led the commissioning of Amazing Grace and said the vessel would help government provide immediate relief during emergencies. “May this ship serve as a concrete reminder to all of us that above all we must prioritize the safety, the well-being and the welfare of our people,” he said.