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Washington – The Pentagon says a U.S. Navy hospital ship is preparing to deploy to Latin America to provide medical services in countries where several million Venezuelans have taken refuge.

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Tuesday that before the USNS Comfort can be deployed from its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, a staff of doctors, nurses and other medical staff have to be assembled. Another defense official said the plan is to send the ship from Norfolk in June.

The Comfort last fall tour provided medical assistance in Colombia and other countries where most of an estimated 3 million Venezuelan refugees have settled to escape a deep political and economic crisis. U.S. officials have warned that many more Venezuelans are expected to flee their country if the crisis continues.

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