Among the military task force being assembled for any future conflict with Iraq is an unusual American vessel that was a visitor to Southampton Docks last year.

USNS Comfort is a 1,000-bed hospital ship which is equipped to provide not just conventional treatment, but emergency aid for any servicemen injured during fighting.

The 70,000-ton USNS Comfort, a converted supertanker, was alongside 38/9 berth in the city's Eastern Docks in the summer and during her stay she was visited by the Princess Royal while in Southampton to officially re-commission the port's Vessel Traffic Services centre.

One of two similar vessels operated by the Military Sealift Command, USNS Comfort was in Southampton to embark personnel and to give her permanent crew of 63 civilians shore leave before taking part in an exercise period. USNS Comfort, one of the biggest vessels of its kind in the world, was drafted into immediate action following the devastating attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

A veteran of the Gulf War, the ship has 12 fully equipped operating theatres, radiological services, laboratories, pharmacy and two oxygen-producing plants.