Marco Rubio Says Navy Ships Should Be Sent to the Bahamas 'As Soon As Possible'

The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is anchored off the coast of La Brea, Trinidad and Tobago as the ship prepares for a five-day medical mission. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Morgan K. Nall)
The hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) is anchored off the coast of La Brea, Trinidad and Tobago as the ship prepares for a five-day medical mission, September 3, 2019. (U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Morgan K. Nall)

Sen. Marco Rubio says sailors and Marines can help relieve the suffering in the Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian decimated the island country by sending ships to assist those in need of medical attention.

The Florida Republican sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, on Sunday, urging that the hospital ship Comfort and assets from the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group be dispatched to the Bahamas "as soon as possible."

"I respectfully implore you to strongly consider a formal request for the USNS Comfort to be repositioned to the Bahamas ... as well as any assets needed from the Bataan Amphibious Readiness Group," wrote Rubio, who recently returned from a trip to the storm-ravaged country.

USAID did not immediately respond to questions about Rubio's letter, including whether Administrator Mark Green had received it.

There has not yet been an official request to send the Comfort or ARG to the Bahamas. A USAID official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said only that medical needs on the ground are still being assessed.

In his letter, Rubio stressed that many in the Bahamas are in need of medical treatment, but resources there are limited. Power is scarce, and helicopter evacuations by trained professionals "is the only solution" until debris is moved so medical facilities can be set up on land, he added.

Related: Thousands of US Sailors and Marines on Alert to Assist the Bahamas After Dorian

Dorian was the strongest hurricane ever to hit the Bahamas. The slow-moving Category 5 storm hovered over the country for more than a day, killing 45 people and leaving 70,000 without homes.

"The USNS Comfort, and its crew of trained medical staff, flight deck and ability to desalinate water, would be ideal in helping the Bahamian people," Rubio said. "[The Comfort] could ... provide short-term medical treatment as runways and ports come back online."

The Bataan ARG, which is currently training in the Atlantic, can also provide airlift and medical support, he said. The ready group includes about 2,200 members of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The sailors and Marines are equipped with MV-22B Osprey aircraft that take off and land like helicopters and fly like planes, along with heavy-lift helicopters.

Green traveled to the Bahamas on Sunday, USAID spokesman Tom Babington said in a statement. USAID's disaster assistance response team is working closely with other U.S. government agencies, including the DoD and Coast Guard, he said.

"Both of which are providing life-saving support in cooperation with their Bahamian partners," Babington added.

Air Force Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy, head of U.S. Northern Command, said last week that the Comfort and Bataan ARG are just some "of the tools in the toolkit" he could dispatch to the Bahamas if requested.

With more than a week passing since Dorian hit the Bahamas, Rubio said the time to help is now.

"It is critical that during this time of need for our neighbors, the United States uses all of our capabilities to continue to assist in the recovery efforts," he said. "This includes urgent efforts to save lives."

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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