ZHOUSHAN, Zhejiang - China's first hospital ship came home on Friday after treating thousands of people in Africa and South Asia in its maiden overseas medical mission.
In addition, 24 women, China's first female marines to serve on a naval vessel, returned on board.
"The women did a good job. In the 88 days they all passed the qualification tests which usually take six months for their male counterparts to complete," said Song Meiyan, chief of the female sailors on board.
For Xu Ling, the toughest moment was near the Gulf of Aden, where fierce winds rocked the 14,000-ton vessel.
"I kept telling myself not to give up though I really wanted to rush outside to throw up," she said.
The vessel Daishandao, nicknamed "Peace Ark", was built especially for maritime medical care. Much of its equipment is of the same standard as in some of China's top hospitals.
The ship was designed domestically and joined China's naval fleet in 2008.
The ship is considered one of the world's largest hospital vessels, a navy source who wished to remain anonymous told China Daily.
On the voyage, Daishandao carried 428 medical staff who provided physical examinations and treatment to 15,537 people and conducted 97 operations in Djibouti, Kenya, Tanzania, the Seychelles, and Bangladesh as well as on three Chinese naval vessels safeguarding commercial routes in the Gulf of Aden, according to the navy.
"I spent the busiest days in my medical career on the ship. In Kenya, more than 1,000 people were waiting in line for us overnight and there even were traffic jams," said Ye Xia, an oculist from a military hospital in the port city of Zhoushan.
In Djibouti, an African nation with only two oculists, Ye and her colleagues had to work almost 24 hours a day. They cured 41 cataract cases during the mission.
Patients from Somalia even traveled over the border to Djibouti for treatment, Ye said.
In Bangladesh, Chinese doctors saved a pregnant woman with a serious heart condition that local hospitals failed to treat effectively. The woman finally gave birth to a girl who was named "Chin".
"It was such a cute girl, with white skin and big eyes," recalled Liu Xiaomei, the translator on board.
Leaders of every country Daishandao visited attached great importance to the ship, while the Bangladeshi president even paid a visit, Liu said.
The ship also provided "direct and practical care" to more than 1,000 officers and soldiers safeguarding ships in the Gulf of Aden, said Rear Admiral Bao Yuping, commanding officer of the mission.
Bao said China sent the hospital ship to the less-developed nations to help people really in need and let the local people "know more about China, the Chinese military and the Chinese navy".
"I can't stop recalling the local citizens in Tanzania kept asking us, are you coming back next year?" Liu said.