The world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, is set to sail to Africa – following eight years of conversion work and global fundraising.

The former Danish rail ferry, has been converted into a state-of-the-art hospital ship at a cost of over £30million and will provide free healthcare and community development services to the poorest people of Africa. The Africa Mercy is due to sail on its inaugural trip to Liberia on May 4.

UK based philanthropist, Ann Gloag, who has donated substantially to the project, said today: “When I originally put up the first donation to buy the ship I knew it would be a long, tough project and it certainly has been. However when you consider that this ship used to be a rail ferry and is now a state-of-the-art hospital ship, all the hard work has been well worthwhile.”

The Africa Mercy is the fourth ship to be operated by the international charity, Mercy Ships, which has provided more than £350million worth of services since its inception in 1978.

More than 400 volunteer crew will be taking part in the ships first field service in Africa providing free medical care, capacity building, relief aid and community development programmes to the people of war-torn Liberia.

£1million worth of hospital supplies, equipment and materials have been loaded onto the ship in the last week, transforming this vessel from an empty shell into a state-of-the-art hospital ship and small village. In addition to the hospital supplies, essential goods including 3000 toilet rolls (three month supply), 400 waste paper bins, 26.8 tons of frozen meat and fish (4 months supply), 420kg of coffee courtesy of Starbucks and 4,000kg of breakfast cereal have been loaded.

The projected surgical capacity onboard the Africa Mercy is approximately 7,000 operations per year including, cataract removal/lens implant, tumour removal, cleft lip and palate reconstruction, orthopaedics and obstetric fistula repair.

Over the years Mercy Ships has treated more than 200,000 people in village medical clinics; performing more than 32,000 surgeries and 180,000 dental treatments; and completing more than 800 construction, agriculture and water development projects.

Judy Polkinhorn, Executive Director, Mercy Ships UK, said: “A huge thank you goes out to everyone who has been involved in the whole project from start to finish. It is a great pleasure to know that the ship will be sailing to Africa shortly to carry out life saving treatments and giving hope back to thousands of families in the poorest communities of the world. We have all been working so hard over the last eight years to get to this stage and to finally see the ship in its completed state is marvellous. “

Her Excellency Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson, President of Liberia, Africa said: “The young people of our nation were once ostracized, rejected in their community, and ashamed to go around because of their disfigurement. Now, because of the work of Mercy Ships, they can once again become a part of their community, their church, their school, their work and I thank you for your every effort in making this happen.”

Lord Ian McColl, Chairman of Mercy Ships UK and Vice-Chair of Mercy Ships International, said today: “This is a truly momentous day for Mercy Ships. I have worked as a volunteer surgeon on many occasions with Mercy Ships and I am very much looking forward to working on this purposely converted sate-of-the-art hospital ship. The life changing operations that we undertake are common practice in developed countries but are simply not available to the poorest people in Africa.”

Don Stephens, Founder of Mercy Ships said: “There has been an endless amount of fundraising taking place all over the world and without such, this project would not have been possible. Many thanks go out to all donors who have assisted in this project, the largest ever undertaken by Mercy Ships since the inception of the charity. Without the Africa Mercy so many of the poor faced life without hope but once this ship docks in Africa, a strong symbol of hope will be present.”

A massive boost to the project came in the form of a £6million matching grant donated by The Oak Foundation, with Mercy Ships Board Members and their associates having contributed well over 50 per cent of the £20million plus raised to date. There is also continuing support from Ann Gloag’s Balcraig Foundation, which has donated in excess of £7.5million.

All the crew on board the Africa Mercy will be volunteer professionals from around the world who pay monthly room and board costs while volunteering. Doctors, dentists, nurses, community developers, teachers, builders, cooks, seamen, engineers, and many others will donate their time and skills to the effort.

For further information on Mercy Ships, please visit our website at www.mercyships.org.uk where the full press pack is available for download from the following link http://www.mercyships.org.uk/en/press_e.php or contact Jack Irvine or Lorna Inglis at Media House on Jack mob: 07860 457 456 or Lorna mob: 07813 193 618.