Senator John McCain suggested on US television that an American hospital ship ought to be sent to the Mediterranean to aid the humanitarian effort in Libya, as the debate continues locally over Malta’s role in the conflict.

However, Mr McCain appered to be repeating a proposal first made to him by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, who spoke about the idea in Parliament last night. Dr Gonzi said he had made the suggestion to the Senator who seemed pleased with the idea and requested him to make it official (see page 12)

Sources said the idea to send a ship to Malta or Tripoli was likely to be followed up by the US government due to Mr McCain’s influential status, although this may take time to materialise.

Meanwhile, one of the founders of the Malta-based NGO I-Go Aid, Mario Debono, has lashed out at critics of the government’s decision to take on Libyan patients for medical treatment at its own expense.

Speaking via telephone close to the frontline in Libya, Mr Debono said comments being made by some members of the public, particularly on online portals such as timesofmalta.com, were shameful.

“Why are we politicising the issue when we should be helping? We’re complaining because we have patients in hospital corridors. In Libya they are lying in the sand. Some Maltese seem to want to help cats and dogs but not fellow humans,” he said.

He was referring to several comments being made about overcrowding and waiting lists at Mater Dei Hospital. Some have complained that while Libyans were being given free and immediate medical assistance, many Maltese were being made to wait in corridors.

This follows similar criticism levelled at the government by the nurses’ union head Paul Pace, which was rebutted by Health Minister Joe Cassar on Sunday.

I-Go Aid has secured another month’s funding to use the Al Entisar aid ship, which will be able to make another six trips to Sirte and Misurata in the coming weeks, according to Mr Debono. This comes just days after it was reported that the ship was calling it a day after some 45 trips from Malta to Misurata or Tripoli.

Mr Debono said the fighting near Sirte was becoming fiercer and some pro-Gaddafi towns seemed to have enough arms and supplies to resist the rebels for years.

“But some people (the rebels) are incredible. They are not even afraid of dying. I’ve never seen so many people who will gladly give their lives for freedom.”

The incessant fighting is piling pressure on hospitals around the country and beyond. Malta has received several patients, many in a critical condition, and is offering treatment at Mater Dei Hospital and Saint James Hospital. The latest arrival was a three-year-old boy with a brain injury, whose critical condition did not improve yesterday.

This is why the hospital ship idea is being described as “very interesting” by government officials and other people involved in the humanitarian effort.

It comes in the wake of another suggestion by the Malta Red Cross to set up a field hospital in Malta. Other options, such as the transformation of St Luke’s or St Philip’s to cater for Libyan patients, are also being considered by the government.

Mr McCain, who ran for President against Barack Obama in 2008, told CBS TV yesterday that his country should send a hospital ship to Malta, if not Tripoli, to help in treating “thousands” of injured Libyans.

He pointed out that the Libyan government estimated there were some 60,000 injured Libyans needing treatment.

“We should be helping them,” he said, adding that this was the least the US could do. He suggested some of the wounded could also be sent to a US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.

Mr McCain’s remarks come as the international Red Cross warned of an impending medical emergency in some of the conflict-stricken Gaddafi strongholds.

Sources told The Times that war veteran Mr McCain was quite influential on these matters so his informal proposal would likely be taken up or at least considered.

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