A Navy amphibious ship left San Diego Monday for a four-month humanitarian mission to island nations in the Pacific Ocean.
The USS Cleveland will be the command ship in a flotilla including vessels from Australia, New Zealand and Japan in Pacific Partnership 2011, which will make stops in the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Tonga and Vanuatu.
The 5-year-old program started after the 2004 tsunami that devastated coastal areas in nations ringing the Indian Ocean.
"Pacific Partnership has evolved into much more than a humanitarian mission. It allows the United States, along with all the participating nations and (non-governmental organizations), to prepare for and better respond to natural disasters around the world like the flooding, earthquakes and tsunami that have recently impacted Australia, New Zealand and Japan," said Capt. Jesse Wilson, the mission commander. "By working together we are better prepared to respond to future disasters."
The mission will also include a helicopter crew from France, along with teams from Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and Spain.
Sailors will take part in medical, dental and engineering outreach projects, including some involving alternative energy and other environmental efforts.
"We built more environmental programs into this year's mission in an effort to ensure our partners in the region are even better prepared to withstand the effects of a natural disaster over time," Wilson said.
"Our goal is not to simply give these nations supplies. Our goal is to work with them on infrastructure and training capabilities that can be sustained long after the mission ends."
In the past five years, the Pacific Partnership program has completed 150 engineering projects and provided preventive medicine services to more than 300,000 patients, according to the Navy.
The Cleveland is scheduled to be decommissioned later this year.
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