BALTIMORE (WJZ)—The hospital ship USNS Comfort has left Baltimore for the last time, and a quarter century relationship comes to an end.
Alex DeMetrick was dockside as the ship left for its new home.
That new home port is Norfolk, Va., and logistics and money are the reasons for the transfer.
Long before dawn, work was underway to get the hospital ship Comfort ready. For those who work the dock and watch over it, it was an emotional departure.
“I work security, and I deal with these people every day, and it hurts. It hurts to see them go,” said Sgt. Gloria Druso, security guard.
In more than 25 years, the Comfort has treated soldiers in both Gulf wars, as well as civilians in humanitarian missions and disasters like the Haiti earthquake.
“Thank you for what you’re doing for Haiti and all of us,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley during the Haiti mission.
The Comfort and its missions have been a source of pride for Baltimore.
“Baltimore takes pride in it, and I think the ship takes pride in it. I think it’s a good relationship between the Navy and Baltimore,” said Jose Johnson, security guard.
The reason it’s ending is financial.
“The Navy will save about $2 million per year by putting the ship in Norfolk,” said Navy spokesman James Marconi.
It will also put it closer to most of the medical staff, who are also in Virginia.
But the Navy’s savings is Baltimore’s loss.
“It’s bad for our economy. We need it back here. More ships here, the more money it brings into the port,” said Eddie Sacks, BATA Marine.
Tuesday there was no time to visit aboard. Only a partial crew is taking the Comfort out for sea trials first, and then home to Norfolk.
As the ship pulled away, the crew lined the rail. They waved goodbye, shouting, “Bye, Baltimore. We love you.”
The feeling is mutual.
“It’s family,” Sgt. Druso said.
Later this spring, the Comfort will leave Norfolk for ports in South America, where it will provide free medical care.
That mission to South America is more than humanitarian.
It also involves training to keep the crew up-to-date.