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.

37 COMMENTS

  1. 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

    • 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!

    • 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 and general services, at the cost of industry. Being an EU member allowed the economy to focus on narrower channels of opportunity, and not to spread the national excellence, as we had done prior to joining the Common Market. Forty years is a long time, and many who are making policy today, were very young or not even born on the day we joined Europe?

        • 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 utterly formidable in her role, should not be designing planes, cars or warships.

          These policies are not correlated in any way to EU membership as evidenced by above – I suggest that you should look closer to home for the reasons.

          • 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 capability, as significant reliance on imports is too prohibitive. If the UK leaves the EU, it needs to seriously attempt to re-establish heavy manufacturing to stand any chance of generating international trade. There is nothing to stop the UK from building cruise and container ships, it’s just breaking the mindset, that we are predominantly, medium to light manufactures. Building large hospital ships is one way of establishing excellence and capability. The Appledore yard is a good example of our current blinkered thinking. The instruments are there it’s just the will that’s lacking.

      • 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.

  2. 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
    https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/235377

      • 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

    • 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.

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

        • 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

  3. 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 a camera shoved down my throat anyway after trying my best to emulate a certain linda lovelace, I was told at the doctors on my return that they couldnt find nothing wrong with me and couldn’t understand why I was slightly anaemic . I tried to explain why , but did they listen. No. The next day I received a letter from my local hospital ( 500 metres away) regards an appointment to have a camera shoved down my neck.
    In other-words they don’t listen.
    Its the same with ship building, listen to the unions, shipyards and workers and build the damn thing here, and hand back some of the money we throw at people who hate us back into the country. But like the NHS they won’t and do as they feel best.

    • Reminds me of work, we banged on for years that to do what was now required we needed more resources. As expected we were told, you’ve got enough shut up. If you don’t like it there’s the door.

      A couple of years ago they paid an external ‘consultant’ to review our depots staffing levels etc etc ( its a large utility). Probably with a view to reducing staff levels.

      Shock Horror the Consultant said you need 30-50% more staff, more localised depots and all the associated kit n caboodle to do what is mandated by government!

      And guess what, none of his recommendations where implemented, cant waste directors bonuses on plebs and kit! So sorry if your lights go out all the time at home, no money to invest in the network see!

  4. 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 can charge what they like or overrun. If the orders not placed they can cry of promises being broken. Golden rule of negotiating and ensuring you get what you want is to not disclose your position.

    If I were the government I would have every intention of placing an order in the UK but hold competition to ensure companies ensure bidder know there are options. You don’t have to select on price alone so a UK yard wouldn’t have to be the cheapest and could win on quality, specification or delivery time

  5. 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.

  6. 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…

    • 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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 that will be brought back into the government from corp tax/payee.

    If even after taking account of the revenue the foreign builder is still better value, then lets buy foreign. Our defense budget is too small for it to go towards topping up unprofitable industries.

    • 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 for and win more than MoD orders and have long term security.

  9. 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 the Mars Ships here, before we lose the Skills and Capability for ever.

    ( I wrote that trying not to include all the F words I normally would !!! )

    • Cap,

      You hope one day we actually get someone in Government with actual common sense and a belief in the country they Govern???

      Next stop loony bin for you m lad!!

      I hope we day we get a Government that lives on the same planet the rest of us do. Common sense, belief in the UK? Flippin eck lad thats more than blue sky thinking!

      • 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.

        Made my Eye’s water, truth be known.

    • 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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 Italy, but built in France with no questions asked? Was the design tendered internationally/ But that should be French content? Why has this build not been internationally tendered? We can build them cheaper! 373 million quid, they cost. Just bing: French built LSS ships contract.

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