COVID-19: Japan’s ship builders keen to launch country’s first hospital ship to meet shortage of beds

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Updated: May 08, 2020 6:36 PM

Originally, hospital ships were designed for military use to treat the wounded during wartime. The ships also provide relief to the hospitals on land, and they may dock near natural disasters.

One ship’s price estimates range from 25 billion yen to 30 billion yen. (Representational image)

COVID-19: Wow, Japan is keen to build and launch the country’s first hospital ship! In fact, Japanese shipbuilders are showing keen interest and have been working behind the scenes to gain a contract for building the country’s first hospital ship, as the coronavirus pandemic threatens to establish a shortage of patient beds on land, reported Nikkei Asian Review. Japan stepped closer to commissioning a hospital ship, earmarking a feasibility study of 70 million yen ($655,000) in a larger supplementary budget approved last week.

Since March, shipbuilding firms have stepped up their lobbying efforts to build the ships. If Japan will order a hospital ship is far from decided, while shipbuilders are hungry to land the project. Such a deal will have the capacity of three big tankers, or five bulk carriers. Companies such as Japan Marine United, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsui E&S Holdings have shown interest in the project, the Nikkei Asian Review report has added.

Hospital ships have gained momentum through the efforts of a legislative caucus headed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party leader, Seishiro Eto, the report said further. The March caucus called for a vessel similar to a long-distance ferry with a length of over 200 meters and a width of over 20 meters.

One ship’s price estimates range from 25 billion yen to 30 billion yen. It will have 250 hospital beds, a helicopter, and a rescue hovercraft. The intention will be to send two hospital ships, one to the north and south reaches of Japan. This fiscal year, the target is to complete designs for the vessels, with construction beginning either in the fiscal year 2021 or 2022.

Originally, hospital ships were designed for military use to treat the wounded during wartime. The ships also provide relief to the hospitals on land, and they may dock near natural disasters. During the Persian Gulf crisis in 1990 hospital ships first became the subject of debate in Japan. In the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami they were lifted again. In both cases, controversies about the use of hospital ships in peacetime, and repair costs, scuttled both debates.

However, the exercise was postponed as workers on the Diamond Princess were grappling with the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the need to reschedule the proving test, the COVID-19 pandemic provides a big opportunity to make hospital ships a reality.

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