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.
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.
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.