NEW YORK (NNS) -- The masters and crews of three Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships were honored Nov. 7 at the annual United Seamen's Service Admiral of the Ocean Sea (AOTOS) Awards banquet in New York City.
This prestigious event, attended by more than 730 maritime leaders, honored mariners aboard U.S. government-owned and other U.S. flagged ships who displayed outstanding seamanship, courage and devotion to duty at sea.
Representatives from hospital ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy and Maritime Prepositioning Ship USNS Gunnery Sgt. Fred W. Stockham received AOTOS Mariner's Plaques in recognition of humanitarian assistance and life-saving efforts.
The masters and crews of hospital ships USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy received special Humanitarian Service Recognition Mariner's Plaques for their respective four-month humanitarian deployments to Latin America and the Caribbean in 2007 and Southeast Asia and the Pacific in 2008. The extraordinary support provided by each ship's 68 civil service mariners enabled deployed medical personnel to treat a combined total of more than 188,000 patients in 17 countries.
Mercy's and Comfort's civil service mariners made these historic missions possible by safely navigating the 894-foot ships in challenging coastal waters and undeveloped ports, transporting thousands of patients and mission personnel between ship and shore in small boats and providing a reliable supply of electricity and fresh water to the ships' hospitals.
Reflecting the uniqueness of the deployments, the United Seamen's Service created the new humanitarian awards this year specifically to honor Mercy and Comfort - a first in the awards ceremony's 39-year history.
Comfort's civil service master Capt. Edward Nanartowich and Mercy's civil service master Capt. Robert Wiley - accompanied by Joseph Watts, Mercy's chief engineer - each accepted the plaques on behalf of their crews. Comfort's chief engineer for the deployment, Douglas B. Puritis, was at sea and unable to attend the ceremony.
"This award honors the entire crew," said Nanartowich. "They saw the potential of what they could give and went beyond it."
The ship's master and crew of USNS Stockham received a Mariner's Plaque for Typhoon Fengshen rescue efforts conducted by the ship's master and crew off of Sibuyan Island and Panay Island in the Philippines June 23-July 3. Stockham's helicopters and Navy divers aided the Philippine Coast Guard in a 34-hour, 17,000-square mile search that resulted in saving 43 people from an 849-passenger ferry capsized by the huge waves.
Stockham's civilian master Capt. Perry Seyler was present at the ceremony to accept the award.
"Seafarers are often considered the fourth arm of defense, but they do not often get the recognition," said United Seamen's Service executive director, Roger Korner. "So when seafarers get an AOTOS award, they are so proud. It allows them to emerge to the forefront."
Former Maryland congresswoman Helen Bentley presented four of this year's six awards. MSC Commander Rear Adm. Robert D. Reilly Jr. presented the two humanitarian awards to Comfort and Mercy.
The United Seamen's Service promotes the welfare of American seafarers and their dependents, seafarers of all nations, U.S. government military and civilian personnel and other persons engaged in the maritime industry.
Military Sealift Command operates approximately 110 noncombatant, merchant mariner-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.
For more news from Military Sealift Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/MSC/.