The UK Government has refused to restrict the build of recently proposed hospital ships to British shipyards, citing a policy it created as the rationale behind the refusal.

Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport, asked in a written question:

“To ask the Secretary of State for Defence, whether a UK hospital ship would be classed as a complex warship and eligible for a restricted tender for UK shipyards for its construction.”

Stuart Andrew, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence, responded:

“In accordance with the National Shipbuilding Strategy, UK hospital ships procured by the Royal Navy are not warships.”

On the prospect of the build actually happening, Andrew was less black and white, leaving the possibility open.

“The Ministry of Defence’s requirement for a hospital ship is provided by RFA ARGUS. The consideration of options to deliver the capability provided by ARGUS after she leaves service remains ongoing.”

What hospital ships?

Last year, we reported that MP Penny Mordaunt proposed that some of the foreign aid budget be used to build hospital ships to provide humanitarian aid in disaster zones.

In a letter to Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, a copy of which has been seen by the Daily Mail and reported on here, Mordaunt claims that the ships could take the place of vessels such as RFA Mounts Bay, which has been stationed in the Caribbean during the hurricane season.

Currently the UK uses Bay class vessel RFA Mounts Bay in a disaster relief role and the contribution of the vessel and hew crew cannot be understated, however, she was wasn’t designed for this task.

RFA Mounts Bay in the Carribean last year.

The UK can also call upon RFA Argus as according to the Royal Navy, the principal role of Argus is to serve as a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship (PCRS). The vessel also once served as an Aviation Training Ship however a ramp for casualty transport replaced one of the aircraft hangars and the PCRS role became the ship’s primary function.

RFA Argus off the coast at Devonport.

According to the Ministry of Defence, as the ship is armed and is not painted in the required white with red crosses, the Geneva Convention prevents her from being officially classified as a hospital ship.

Despite that, the vessel has a fully equipped 100-bed medical complex on board, which can be tailored to deliver treatment afloat. The vessel has sailed before to support potential humanitarian operations during the hurricane season, with a primary mission to support the British Overseas Territories should they require assistance but again, she was not designed for this.

Would a new, dedicated vessel be a better solution? Maybe.

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there’s a surprise, big ticket headline grabbers to be built here, anything else can be built abroad, sounds a perfect project for Rosyth really

Cam Hunter

I agree, we have to suport rosyth and build big ships again, after losing all the big yards over the last 20 years we have to support the only ones we have left, I don’t get why the government don’t realise this!

andy reeves

we’ve got ships that can do the job with very little conversions needed a bay class with its big flight deck, sea born access, apart from fitting out with wards specialist facilities e.t.c i don’t see why spending millions to build a ship from nothing , when the active fleet is waiting for the t26 to roll out, will help at all.


There are no excuses, none what’s so ever to not build in the UK. The country needs to exploit every opportunity to build up shipbuilding excellence that we once enjoyed. That can only be achieved by building ships and hopefully brand new Yards. I fear the reason the Uk has lost so many trades is down to being a member of the EU. I’m not EU bashing, but pointing out how our mindsets changed with new income streams that in the large part, omitted heavy industry. The UK became more service minded thus driving many to seek jobs in banking… Read more »


Perplexed by this comment given that manufacturing industries are doing well in many other EU countries. Did you know that in NL and Germany, the title ‘Engineer’ has a similar status to Dr. of Medicine and you can’t use it unless you’ve done a 5-year analytical degree and are chartered. It’s honoured as a profession so no wonder they get the best still wanting to do it. Compare to the UK where literally anyone can claim to be an engineer and you have a large part of your answer; Mrs OOA claims she is a ‘domestic engineer’ and whilst being… Read more »


I did, and as I remarked, being part of the EU meant we changed. I can recall comments from business leaders and politicians; who suggested the Brits were better at banking, and the service industry than building ships. ‘Others do it better’ was one common conception. As a member of the EU, we became more compartmentalised, which was not the case in the thirty years since WW2 and membership. I’m not saying the EU solely denuded British heavy industry there were other factors, but it may have hastened its decline? Independent countries attempt to retain a broader spectrum of industrial… Read more »

David Stephen

Then we would have only 2 LSDs not 3. Since it is not meant to come from the RN budget it should not impact Type 26. A like for like replacement would seem appropriate, civilian conversion with a flight deck is all that we need.


I think the Government needs to be more supportive of UK shipyards, just as other countries are of theirs. We have a successful aviation industry and we could have an equally successful shipbuilding industry if more Govt contracts were awarded. If need be a competition could be held between UK yards to get best value for money.
If you haven’t signed this please feel free to do so and share

Cam Hunter

We have to get more signatures for your petition mate.


I know believe me I am trying, have written to 3 Unions, 2 newspapers and 5 MPs. 2 MPs have signed my local one Ian Liddell Grainger and Frank Field, ironically the SNP MP for Rosyth hasn’t. I’ll keep persevering


You should send an e mail to Babcock, Cammel Lairds, A & P, etc. and ask if they can get their workforce to sign it.

andy reeves

the defence secretary’s secretary wrote to me a while back to answer my issues surrounding building conventional submarines, i was told the u.k doesn’t have the capacity to build them, as all the yards in the u.k were fully booked up with dreadnaut and type 26 contracts yet again the lack of a cohesive shipbuilding programme is coming back to bite us.

Steve R

HMG will never again build conventional submarines. We want our subs to have global reach, which can only be achieved by the SSNs.

David E Flandry

4-6 advanced conventional subs, 1500-2000 tons , to serve in the North and Central Atlantic, would be a welcome addition to the SSNs, complicate our adversaries ASW strategies, and possibly result in some sales to foreign navies.
Otherwise the UK will never sell a submarine again. In the Falklands War, Oberon class subs were off Argentina soon after the conflict began.


Only Onyx was ever sent as she was modified to hold the SBS deployment “equipment” and it was also the operation that convinced the brass in the silent service that conventional shouldn’t really be expected to cross oceans

andy reeves

for all the pro’s and cons, i’m not convinced we need one in the near future i’d like to see argus upgraded and given a life extending refit


God don’t you just love Bureaucratic jobsworths. The other year I had my blood tested and I was told to return to the doctors. They explained that my iron count was low and did I know why. I replied, yes I eat very little meat and that has made a huge impact on my iron levels , which I do take supplements , but as it is Iron, I tend to take breaks from taking them. Did they listen, did they bollocks . Next thing I knew I was sent an appointment at a hospital 30 miles away to have… Read more »

andy reeves

the fact that the u.k no longer build ships at portsmouth and devonport(the last non clyde submarine onyx was built at chatham)!!!!

Jon Turner

Wrong. There have been quite a few non-Clyde submarines since Onyx.

HMS Unicorn was the last non-Clyde submarine, she was built at Cammell Lairds (Birkenhead) in 1992.
they also built:
HMS Ursula in 1991
HMS Unseen in 1989
HMS Conqueror in 1969
HMS Revenge in 1968
HMS Renown in 1967

Onyx wasn’t even the last built at Chatham, HMCS Okanagan was built from 1965/68 (Laid down / Commissioned) while Onyx was 64 / 67


Its very likely a hospital ship would not be built in the UK for the simple reason its more likely to be a conversion. Conversion work is likely to be done in the UK. But why would anyone commit to this, if you were buying a car would you tell the dealer you’re only going to by from them? That’s negotiating suicide. In the case of construction of a new ship to announce it must be built in the UK then only 1 yard or consortium bid, they know politically you told the population its a UK build they then… Read more »

David Steeper

Not going to comment on whether they should be UK built. Have done that one to death I think. But this is actually good news for Defence. It will take away our need to provide scarce warships for the Hurricane season in the Caribbean. A big increase in the size of the Coastguard and border forces would help to.


I’m not sure if I’m slightly confused or naive about international trade, but my views tend to be more compatible with the German Model.
Why can’t we keep RFA in-house? Surely it makes more sense, in respect of RAD, Workforce PAYE receipts, UK Supply Chains, Apprenticeships, Pensions…

andy reeves

if a build from scratch was chosen, i’d like to see it fully funded from the foreign aid budget, after all it is the caribbean, africa or med, whre it would most likely be used.£13.1 billion in foreign aid should be halved it goes to baffling causes already i mean £200 odd million to india, a nation with its booming economy,the same amount to pakistan, a nation which harbours terrorists and allows its land to be used to train them, is utterly absurd, big, millions to iraq, syria,sudan, nigeria,afghanistan,sierra leone

Daniele Mandelli

I will go so far as to say I find the governments thinking, actually, PERVERSE.

Change the bloody ship building policy then!!

It is almost if they actually want British Shipbuilding to go under.

Levi Goldsteinberg

Useless bastards. No doubt they’d also use this as an excuse to decommission RFA Argus


A storm in a tea cup. It appears they have no plans to actually build one and the response was purely speculative around the ‘if we did’ mentality. I fully agree with the mentality of not guaranteeing a build to the UK, they need to prove their worth and competition is how they do that. If we restricted to just UK the prices would sky rocket, as there would be little to no competition. The issue is not whether we open up or not to foreign bids, its how we rank them and whether they take into account the revenue… Read more »


I agree Steve, even if you had every intention of buy from a UK company why announce to the world your intention. No commercial company would tell a bidder that they’re going to get the order why should the UK government. If we want value for money (value for money is not the cheapest) all options need to be on the table otherwise, cost go up quality goes down and time over runs. I’ll go a step further if you really want to support UK industry you make sure its monitoring its competitors and matching them, then they can compete… Read more »

captain P Wash.

Any Real Pro British Government should do everything In It’s power to Help our Industry Build Ships of whatever bloody Type rather than stick to some half arsed Stupid Ruling made years ago. British Jobs, Skills and Knowhow are far more Important than some Stupid rule on a bit of paper. One person being paid to work on a project will contribute Taxes and plow back their wages into the local area and beyond. I hope one day we actually get someone in Government with Actual Common Sense and a Belief In the Country they Govern. Build this ship and… Read more »

captain P Wash.

Ain’t It F’ing Just. I don’t want to say what my Job Is now but, It involves meeting and talking to Many people from all walks of life, two days ago I met someone who used to work in Customs and excise at Dover, well Hell did he give an Insight Into the workings of our Feckwits in Government, I asked If he was going to write a book but apparently he was “Warned Against It ” Immigration, Drugs, Booze, Fags, Money, You name It, We are Failing Completely to even scratch the surface and all because of Government Policy.… Read more »


I’m afraid all our main parts are followers of neoliberal ideals (well apart from the Corbin wing of the Labour Party, the greens and UKIP).

Your neoliberal will always sell out the population for the purity of the market, he who controls the market controls our political class, they have sold us down the river I’m afraid.


Realistically the chances of getting any DFID funding first this ship are zero. The RN should simply not build it. It would be far better to copy the French Mistral and put medical facilities in an LHD reaplcement for Ocean.


Always Neoliberal dogma over national interest or the interest of providing work for the population, our political classes really do need to remember their history lessons on what happens when the ruling class stop having any real feeling or understanding of those they represent ( heads and necks contacting with various metal objects ) and pursue the needs of an international elite over their population (and I’m not taking Eurocrats).

I don’t like a lot of what president trump represents (being a lefty)but I think he actually gets the danger of dogmatically following neoliberalism over national interest.

Darren and . Are we having the p*ss taken out of us while destroying a potential new viable creative industry known as shipbuilding and due to our own evil traitorous UK government? Yes, we fu*king are!


Why can’t everyone wake up. Penny Mordaunt proposed that some of the foreign aid budget that is wasted on countries that neither need or deserve it be used to build hospital ships to provide humanitarian aid in disaster zones.

Use the Foreign aid budget to build these ships, build them at Appledore and Rosyth and let the RFA manage them in accordance with national directives.


I may have used a few expletives in my past comments, but this news just upset me, when this Country is using whatever to not build ships here because they do not like shipbuilding or the past shipbuilding of the 60s 70s and 80s. But that was the past, there is a new UK potential in Shipbuilding but the UK government have no dynamic about them. Why do I have to read about the French building their own LSS ships (basically smaller than the UK’s expensive Tides oil tankers with some hospital stuff, but even more expensive), designed in recession… Read more »


We have to remember this UK government is following every government from 1997 onwards to please it’s eu masters. None of us should pretend it is any different from then, then this melancholy state we are in now. Labour had a policy of not wanting to make things (found in the Guardian rag, about


G’Day from Australia,
Have you lot forgotten Brexit? I thought you were leaving the EU. Did not your MOD get the memo?

Peter Brace

Don’t blame the EU – it’s people who think our defence policy should be orientated towards some romantic notion of empire rather than working with allies as part of NATO. The latest wild idea is to establish a base in the Caribbean in addition to locating ships there. Remember when we had a merchant navy? it’s nearly all gone now with the replacements for the Canberra, Norland, etc all registered in Bermuda – depriving the UK of ships, employment for merchant seamen and revenue. It is interesting to note that Bermuda has a higher average income than the UK but… Read more »