Hospital ship
Overview
 

A hospital ship is a ship
Ship
Since the end of the age of sail a ship has been any large buoyant marine vessel. Ships are generally distinguished from boats based on size and cargo or passenger capacity. Ships are used on lakes, seas, and rivers for a variety of activities, such as the transport of people or goods, fishing,...

 designated for primary function as a floating medical treatment facility or hospital
Hospital
A hospital is a health care institution providing patient treatment by specialized staff and equipment. Hospitals often, but not always, provide for inpatient care or longer-term patient stays....

; most are operated by the military
Military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 forces (mostly navies
Navy
A navy is the branch of a nation's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake- or ocean-borne combat operations and related functions...

) of various countries, as they are intended to be used in or near war zones.

Attacking a hospital ship is a war crime
War crime
War crimes are serious violations of the laws applicable in armed conflict giving rise to individual criminal responsibility...

, however, belligerent navies
Belligerent
A belligerent is an individual, group, country or other entity which acts in a hostile manner, such as engaging in combat. Belligerent comes from Latin, literally meaning "to wage war"...

 are entitled the right to board such ships for inspections.
Hospital ships were covered under the Hague Convention X of 1907.
Encyclopedia

A hospital ship is a ship
Ship
Since the end of the age of sail a ship has been any large buoyant marine vessel. Ships are generally distinguished from boats based on size and cargo or passenger capacity. Ships are used on lakes, seas, and rivers for a variety of activities, such as the transport of people or goods, fishing,...

 designated for primary function as a floating medical treatment facility or hospital
Hospital
A hospital is a health care institution providing patient treatment by specialized staff and equipment. Hospitals often, but not always, provide for inpatient care or longer-term patient stays....

; most are operated by the military
Military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 forces (mostly navies
Navy
A navy is the branch of a nation's armed forces principally designated for naval and amphibious warfare; namely, lake- or ocean-borne combat operations and related functions...

) of various countries, as they are intended to be used in or near war zones.

Attacking a hospital ship is a war crime
War crime
War crimes are serious violations of the laws applicable in armed conflict giving rise to individual criminal responsibility...

, however, belligerent navies
Belligerent
A belligerent is an individual, group, country or other entity which acts in a hostile manner, such as engaging in combat. Belligerent comes from Latin, literally meaning "to wage war"...

 are entitled the right to board such ships for inspections.

International law

Hospital ships were covered under the Hague Convention X of 1907. Article four of the Hague Convention X outlined the restrictions for a hospital ship:
  • Ship must be clearly marked and lighted as a hospital ship
  • The ship should give medical assistance to wounded personnel of all nationalities
  • The ship must not be used for any military purpose
  • The ship must not interfere with or hamper enemy combatant vessels
  • Belligerents, as designated by the Hague Convention, can search any hospital ship to investigate violations of the above restrictions
  • Belligerents will establish the location a hospital ship


According to the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea
San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea
The San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea was adopted in June 1994 by the International Institute of Humanitarian Law after a series of round table discussions by naval and legal experts...

, a hospital ship violating legal restrictions must be duly warned and given a reasonable time limit to comply. If a hospital ship persists in violating restrictions, a belligerent is legally entitled to capture it or take other means to enforce compliance. A non-complying hospital ship may only be fired on under the following conditions:
  • Diversion or capture is not feasible
  • No other method to exercise control is available
  • The violations are grave enough to allow the ship to be classified as a military objective
  • The damage and casualties will not be disproportionate to the military advantage.

History

Such ships possibly existed in ancient times. The Athenian Navy had a ship named Therapia, and the Roman Navy had a ship named Aesculapius, their names indicating that they may have been hospital ships. During the 17th century, it became customary for naval squadrons to be accompanied by special vessels with the job of taking in the wounded after each engagement. On 8 December 1798, unfit for service as a warship, HMS Victory
HMS Victory
HMS Victory is a 104-gun first-rate ship of the line of the Royal Navy, laid down in 1759 and launched in 1765. She is most famous as Lord Nelson's flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805....

 was ordered to be converted to a hospital ship to hold wounded French and Spanish prisoners of war. Another early example of a hospital ship was USS Red Rover
USS Red Rover
USS Red Rover was a 650-ton Confederate States of America steamer that the United States Navy captured. After refitting the vessel, the Union used it as a hospital ship during the American Civil War....

 in the 1860s, which aided the wounded soldiers of both sides during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

. It was the sighting by the Japanese of the Russian hospital ship Orel, correctly illuminated in accordance with regulations, that led to the Battle of Tsushima
Battle of Tsushima
The Battle of Tsushima , commonly known as the “Sea of Japan Naval Battle” in Japan and the “Battle of Tsushima Strait”, was the major naval battle fought between Russia and Japan during the Russo-Japanese War...

 during the Russo-Japanese War
Russo-Japanese War
The Russo-Japanese War was "the first great war of the 20th century." It grew out of rival imperial ambitions of the Russian Empire and Japanese Empire over Manchuria and Korea...

. Orel was retained as a prize of war by the Japanese after the battle. During World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, some passenger liners
Ocean liner
An ocean liner is a ship designed to transport people from one seaport to another along regular long-distance maritime routes according to a schedule. Liners may also carry cargo or mail, and may sometimes be used for other purposes .Cargo vessels running to a schedule are sometimes referred to as...

 were converted for use as hospital ships. RMS Aquitania
RMS Aquitania
RMS Aquitania was a Cunard Line ocean liner designed by Leonard Peskett and built by John Brown & Company in Clydebank, Scotland. She was launched on 21 April 1913 and sailed on her maiden voyage to New York on 30 May 1914...

 and HMHS Britannic
HMHS Britannic
HMHS Britannic was the third and largest of the White Star Line. She was the sister ship of and , and was intended to enter service as a transatlantic passenger liner. She was launched just before the start of the First World War and was laid up at her builders in Belfast for many months before...

 were two examples of ships serving in this capacity.

The last British Royal Yacht, the post World War II HMY Britannia
HMY Britannia
Her Majesty's Yacht Britannia is the former Royal Yacht of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. She was the 83rd such vessel since the restoration of King Charles II in 1660. She is the second Royal yacht to bear the name, the first being the famous racing cutter built for The Prince of Wales...

, was ostensibly constructed in a way as to be easily convertible to a hospital ship, but this is now thought to be largely a ruse to ensure Parliamentary funding, and she never served in this role - reputedly her lifts were too small to take standard-sized stretchers.

A development of the Lun-class ekranoplan was planned for use as a mobile field hospital for rapid deployment to any ocean or coastal location at a speed of 297 knots (550 km/h). Work was 90% complete on this model, the Spasatel, but Soviet military funding ceased and it was never completed.

The Brazilian Navy
Brazilian Navy
The Brazilian Navy is a branch of the Brazilian Armed Forces responsible for conducting naval operations. It is the largest navy in Latin America...

 currently also operates several hospital ships on the Amazon and its tributaries. The Brazilians have an innovative and well-developed program of small, shallow-draft hospital ships that can provide medical care to the people in the interior of the vast Amazon region.

U.S. Navy Hospital Ships

The first purposely built hospital ship in the US Navy was the USS Relief
USS Relief
Six ships in the United States Navy have been named USS Relief., a store ship, launched in 1836. She served intermittently until 1877 and was sold in 1883., a hospital ship with the Great White Fleet. She was commissioned in 1909...

 which was commissioned in 1927. Most hospital ships in the US Navy during WW2 were converted passenger liners. And most were not marked as neither the Japanese or Germans were concerned with the Hague Convention on hospital ships

The U.S. Navy's two hospital ships, the USNS Mercy (T-AH-19)
USNS Mercy (T-AH-19)
The third USNS Mercy is the lead ship of her class of hospital ships in the United States Navy. Her sister ship is the USNS Comfort . She was named for the virtue of compassion. In accordance with the Geneva Conventions, USNS Mercy and her crew do not carry any offensive weapons, though...

 and USNS Comfort (T-AH-20)
USNS Comfort (T-AH-20)
USNS Comfort is the third United States Navy ship to bear the name Comfort, and the second to join the navy fleet. The USNS prefix identifies the Comfort as a non-commissioned ship owned by the U.S. Navy and crewed by civilians. In accordance with the Geneva Conventions, USNS Comfort and her...

, are operated by Military Sealift Command
Military Sealift Command
The Military Sealift Command is a United States Navy organization that controls most of the replenishment and military transport ships of the Navy. It first came into existence on 9 July 1949 when the Military Sea Transportation Service became solely responsible for the Department of Defense's...

. Their primary mission is to provide emergency on-site care for U.S. combatant forces deployed in war or other operations. The ships' secondary mission is to provide full hospital services to support U.S. disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide.

Both ships contain 12 fully equipped operating rooms, a 1,000-bed hospital facility, digital radiological services, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry lab, an intensive care ward, dental services, a CT scanner, a morgue
Morgue
A morgue or mortuary is used for the storage of human corpses awaiting identification, or removal for autopsy or disposal by burial, cremation or otherwise...

, and two oxygen-producing plants. Each ship is equipped with a helicopter deck capable of landing large military helicopters. The ships also have side ports to take on patients at sea.

The ships are converted San Clemente-class
Mercy class hospital ship
The Mercy class of hospital ships are converted San Clemente-class supertankers now used by the United States Navy as naval ambulances. Originally built in the late 1970s by the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, they were acquired by the Navy and converted into hospital ships, coming into...

 supertankers
Oil tanker
An oil tanker, also known as a petroleum tanker, is a merchant ship designed for the bulk transport of oil. There are two basic types of oil tankers: the crude tanker and the product tanker. Crude tankers move large quantities of unrefined crude oil from its point of extraction to refineries...

. Mercy was delivered in 1986 and Comfort in 1987. Normally, the ships are kept in a reduced operating status in Baltimore, Maryland, and San Diego, California
San Diego, California
San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the United States and second-largest city in California. The city is located on the coast of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, immediately adjacent to the Mexican border. The birthplace of California, San Diego is known for its mild year-round...

, by a small crew of civil service mariners and active-duty Navy medical and support personnel. Each ship can be fully activated and crewed within five days. For example, the Comfort departed Baltimore for Haiti on January 16, 2010, to provide relief to victims of the country's massive earthquake
2010 Haiti earthquake
The 2010 Haiti earthquake was a catastrophic magnitude 7.0 Mw earthquake, with an epicentre near the town of Léogâne, approximately west of Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital. The earthquake occurred at 16:53 local time on Tuesday, 12 January 2010.By 24 January, at least 52 aftershocks...

 four days after it hit.

Legal status

Modern hospital ships display large Red Crosses or Red Crescents to signify their Geneva convention protection under the laws of war
Laws of war
The law of war is a body of law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct...

. However, a British air attack in 1945 sank the German hospital ship SS Deutschland
SS Deutschland (1923)
SS Deutschland Sometimes called Deutschland IV to distinguish from others of the name was a 21,046 gross registered ton German HAPAG ocean liner which was sunk in a British air attack in 1945, with great loss of life....

 with substantial loss of life; in the chaos of the war's closing days, she apparently had not been sufficiently marked as a hospital ship. Even marked vessels are not completely safe. Markings did not stop the sinking of the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur
AHS Centaur
Australian Hospital Ship Centaur was a hospital ship which was attacked and sunk by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Queensland, Australia, on 14 May 1943...

 on 14 May 1943 off the coast of Queensland
Queensland
Queensland is a state of Australia, occupying the north-eastern section of the mainland continent. It is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean...

 by a Japanese submarine, the German Hospital Ship Tübingen on 18 November 1944 at Pula
Pula
Pula is the largest city in Istria County, Croatia, situated at the southern tip of the Istria peninsula, with a population of 62,080 .Like the rest of the region, it is known for its mild climate, smooth sea, and unspoiled nature. The city has a long tradition of winemaking, fishing,...

 by the Royal Air Force
Royal Air Force
The Royal Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Formed on 1 April 1918, it is the oldest independent air force in the world...

 heavy fighter
Heavy fighter
A heavy fighter is a fighter aircraft designed to carry heavier weapons or operate at longer ranges. To achieve acceptable performance, most heavy fighters were twin-engined, and many had multi-place crews....

s, or that of the Japanese Hospital Ship Buenosuairesu-maru on 26 November 1943 by an American B-24 bomber. In the last incident, the surviving crew members, still adrift and awaiting rescue five days later, were strafed by another B-24.

Some hospital ships, such as the SS Hope
SS Hope
The SS Hope was a hospital ship operated by Project HOPE .The Hope was originally built as a US Navy hospital ship, USS Consolation . The Consolation was donated to Project Hope in 1958, and served from 1960 until 1974, when she was retired...

, belong to civilian agencies, and as such are not part of any navy.

The British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 Royal Fleet Auxiliary
Royal Fleet Auxiliary
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is a civilian-manned fleet owned by the British Ministry of Defence. The RFA enables ships of the United Kingdom Royal Navy to maintain operations around the world. Its primary role is to supply the Royal Navy with fuel, ammunition and supplies, normally by replenishment...

 ship RFA Argus
RFA Argus (A135)
RFA Argus is a ship of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, part of the Royal Navy. Italian-built, Argus was formerly the container ship MV Contender Bezant. The ship was requisitioned in 1982 for service in the Falklands War and purchased outright in 1984 for use as an Aviation Training Ship, replacing RFA...

 would be a hospital ship were it not for its armaments. When performing its medical role it is designated a 'primary casualty receiving ship'.

Armed vessels are disqualified from protection as a hospital ship under international law.

See also

Lists:

Other:
  • Mercy Ships
    Mercy Ships
    Mercy Ships is an international charity that was founded in 1978 by Don and Deyon Stephens. Mercy Ships currently operates the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, providing free health care, community development projects, community health education, mental health programs,...

  • MS Jutlandia
  • Ambulance#Military use
  • Type 920 Hospital Ship
    Type 920 Hospital Ship
    The Type 920 Hospital Ship is a class of hospital ship in the People's Liberation Army Navy of the Peoples' Republic of China.920 is the type of the ship. 866 is the PLA Navy side number of this ship, 岱山岛号 is the navy name, 和平方舟 is the name in peacetime.-History:Launched in 2007, China is one of...

  • Hospital train
    Hospital train
    A hospital train is a railway train with carriages equipped for the provision of healthcare. Historically this has ranged from trains equipped to transport wounded soldiers, with basic nursing and first aid facilities on board, to fully equipped mobile medical centres, sometimes including operating...


External links

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