US Navy hospital ship will be deployed to assist Venezuelan refugees

PHOTO: The Military Sealift Commands hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) navigates through water during Comfort Exercise (COMFEX) 2018.PlayMass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/U.S. Navy, FILE
WATCH The opposition in Venezuela is calling for demonstrators to strike once again

The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will soon be headed to the Caribbean, Central America and South America to assist Venezuelan refugees.

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Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan told reporters Tuesday that getting the medical personnel aboard the ship will be a "highly choreographed" effort. He also said that there is a lot of planning underway for Venezuela for various scenarios, in what he described as "a fluid situation."

The ship is scheduled to deploy in June from Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

"U.S. military medical personnel will work alongside partners to provide medical assistance to communities based on needs identified by host-nation health ministries, and help relieve pressure on host nation medical systems in countries hosting Venezuelans who have fled the country's crisis," according to a U.S. Southern Command statement.

PHOTO: The Military Sealift Commands hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) navigates through water during Comfort Exercise (COMFEX) 2018. Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Clay/U.S. Navy, FILE
The Military Sealift Command's hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) navigates through water during Comfort Exercise (COMFEX) 2018.

Venezuela is experiencing political unrest and is in the midst of an economic crisis that has resulted in shortages of food and medical supplies. In 2018, an average of 5,000 people left the country each day in search of protection or better circumstances and 2.7 million Venezuelans are being hosted in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the United Nations.

The country's opposition-controlled National Assembly declared Juan Guaidó interim president in January, but President Nicolás Maduro has maintained his grip on power, despite months of demonstrations and U.S. sanctions.

PHOTO: A US military surgical technician prepares a patient for surgery aboard the USNS Comfort in Colon, Honduras, Dec. 10, 2018. Maria Pinel/Joint Task Force Bravo/US Navy, FILE
A US military surgical technician prepares a patient for surgery aboard the USNS Comfort in Colon, Honduras, Dec. 10, 2018.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that Maduro is "ruling for the moment," but cannot be part of Venezuela's future. He also reiterated the Trump administration's support for Guaidó.

"We’ve supported the National Assembly’s choice. Juan Guaidó is the interim president of the country, and as you know, these things sometimes have bumpy roads." Pompeo told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl.

This will be the hospital ship's seventh deployment to the region since 2007. The USNS Comfort has previously assisted patients in Ecuador, Peru and Colombia.

The ship's surgical and medical services include X-rays, CAT scans, dental services, an optometry and lens laboratory, a physical therapy center and a pharmacy. In November ABC News reported that the ship also maintains up to 5,000 units of blood for medical services, and that patients are seen on board the ship as well as at land-based medical sites, depending on patient needs.

ABC News' Annika Merrilees and Stephanie Parr contributed to this report.