PAPALOAPAN, Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Biloxi, Miss. — This Mexican naval ship anchored off the coast of Biloxi and laden with hurricane relief supplies is a welcome sight in Mississippi.
The Mexican military may not have been on U.S. soil in any sort of fashion since 1846, but onboard the Papaloapan, a Mexican Navy frigate, officers are eager to help in the rescue-and-recovery effort in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
It’s highly unusual for the Mexican military to be called into action by its northern neighbor, but the Mexican government recognized it could provide some valuable skills to help in the aftermath of the natural disaster.
Lt. Rubin Pascual, a member of the 34-member medical team on board, said he was surprised about the mission. “But everybody needs some help every once in a while. Being our neighbors, we are happy to help the American people.”
Happy to help
As a psychiatrist, Pascual explained that he can help with his specialty and also aid the medical group in general. He also believes that his background will allow him to work well with any of the many Mexican-Americans affected by the storm.
The Papaloapan arrived on Wednesday from Tampico, Mexico, in the Gulf of Mexico, a short run from here.
In addition to the medical team, the vessel has supplies, rescue teams, Russian-made helicopters, and amphibious vehicles that can bring their crews to shore.
There also is hydrologist onboard who can get into shipping channels in Biloxi and look for submerged hazards.
Seventy-five Marines from the Mexican military made their way to shore Friday morning to begin an initial assessment on the humanitarian needs.
They arranged to have one person in each working group who can speak English. And in cases like rescues, whether they speak the same language or not, they will be speaking the language of humanitarian assistance and cooperation.
They are working in coordination with the U.S. military, specifically, the U.S.S. Bataan, the organizing ship for the fleet of vessels that are here. There are two U.S. ships, one Dutch ship, and this Mexican ship. All of the vessels are anchored about 30 miles off of Biloxi.
The Papaloapan will likely stay off the coast of Biloxi for at least 30 days. There's no set timetable; it can stay as long as it's needed.
Kerry Sanders is an NBC News Correspondent. He called this report in from onboard the Papaloapan. See more of his reports from onboard the Mexican military ship on NBC News Nightly News on Saturday.