China Oceanic Development Foundation – Looking Back: Ice Breaking Voyage of China’s Hospital Ship to the Philippines


BEIJING, July 15, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Head steerer YIN Dajun had never seen anything like this: the ocean was pitch black. Strong winds were tearing the waves into pieces and the breakers were crashing against the porthole of the cabin.

"When our hospital ship travelled through the valley formed between the giant waves, two jets of water rushed up from the anchor holes, and the breakers would slap heavily on the bow," said YIN, head of the steersmen of Peace Ark Hospital Ship.

The Chinese helmsman, then 26 years old, was on a disaster relief mission when Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), one of the most powerful tropical cyclones ever recorded, tore through the Philippines in November 2013.

Typhoon Yolanda claimed 6,300 lives, leaving more than 28,000 injured and millions displaced, according to the Philippines National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

The Chinese hospital ship, Peace Ark, had just finished a 125-day mission when it was called to sail to the Philippines. On short notice, the crew loaded the ship with more than 1,400 kinds of medical supplies and over 100 pieces of medical equipment within two days.

Peace Ark took much bigger hits than usual as Typhoon Yolanda was lashing the sea and swallowing coastal towns in the Philippines.

The crew were constantly throwing up, especially the medical workers who had never been out at sea before, said YIN. Some medical workers were suffering from sea sickness so severe that they could barely eat, YIN recalled.

The efforts paid off. Peace Ark arrived at the town of Palo, one of the most severely impacted areas in the Philippines, one day earlier than the original plan.

"Despite the rampant epidemic, severe water pollution and hungry mosquitoes, the crew worked on shifts day and night. We fought for 16 days," CHEN Yangyang, a supervisory officer of Peace Ark, told China Central Television (CCTV).

The medical team of Peace Ark received more than 2,200 wounded people, conducted 44 operations, tested water quality for 21 different relocation spots, and sent doctors and medicine to more than 2,600 people affected.

The relations between China and the Philippines were at a low point at that time, CHEN recalled, but when the Chinese medical workers were out in the field helping the Philippines people, all the differences were set aside.

"We sent our hospital ship for disaster relief without a second thought," CHEN said. "The mission was well received by the World Health Organization (WHO). An official from WHO said Peace Ark played a critical role in the rescue and aid."

The crew set up a field hospital in the mud and looked for the wounded in the debris. During daytime, medical workers inspected the injured and sprayed medicine for epidemic prevention. At night, they conducted operations.

"When I got off the ship, I saw bare coconut trees with only trunks. Half of a provincial hospital buildings had collapsed," recalled CAI Jinhui, medical director of Peace Ark, adding that it was hard for one not to rush straight to work after seeing a scene like this.

Head nurse CAI Weiping remembered she was calling for help when she saw Malissa, a two-year-old boy, who had passed out and was shivering from fever. Malissa was highly dehydrated when his mom took him to one of the outpatient spots, and the nurse could barely draw his blood.

CAI’s heart ached as she saw this. She stayed with Malissa all the time, feeding him water and cooling his forehead every once in a while.

"You can build a house from the ruins. But what would I do with my life if I lost my only son?" Malissa’s mother Rowena said.

The mother looked helpless, not knowing what to do, as CAI recalled. Her husband had lost his life in the typhoon, leaving her and Malissa behind.

Doctors and nurses paid extra attention to Malissa. They even managed to get some candy for the kid.

The day finally came when Malissa was discharged from hospital, but he didn’t want to leave.

Several days later, when the staff were working to remove the outpatient spots, Malissa rushed into the head nurse’s arms with a small bunch of jasmine.

Jasmine is the state flower of the Philippines, which is often used to express the highest respect for guests from afar.

"I’ve seen benevolence and generosity from all of you. Jasmine has blossomed and now you’re leaving. We wish you a safe journey back to China," said Rowena.

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