A MERCY ship that has provided vital aid to the Developing World has attracted thousands of visitors during its North-East stay.

The MV Anastasis, which is run by the international Christian charity Mercy Ships, is two weeks into a three-week visit to Sunderland.

The ship recently returned from Sierra Leone where it provided free operations for local people including cataract removals and facial reconstructions.

Members of the vessel's volunteer crew have also helped to rebuild communities ravaged by a decade-long civil war.

Lafarge UK, which closed down its Weardale cement plant last year, has donated 48 tonnes towards the charity's future rebuilding work.

A spokesman for the company said: "It is a good cause that we are looking to support.''

Today the crew will give a presentation on their work to councillors and schoolchildren at Sunderland Civic Centre after an official lunch.

Mayor Juliana Heron said: "The ship does a wonderful job bringing medical aid to some of the poorest countries in Africa.

"Inviting some of the crew to lunch is just the city's way to saying how much we appreciate all they are doing.''

The ship's chief operations officer Warrie Blackburn said: "We've really enjoyed the warmth of our welcome here in Sunderland and the chance our visit has given us to let more people know about the work we do and, hopefully, attract more volunteers.''