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 Table of Contents  
HISTORY OF MILITARY MEDICINE
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 63-65

Navy Hospital ships in history


1 SSO (Health), India
2 ACMO, HQWNC, Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Web Publication17-Aug-2017

Correspondence Address:
Surg Capt Sougat Ray
HQWNC, Mumbai, Maharashtra
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/jmms.jmms_43_17

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  Abstract 


Hospital ships are operated by the Naval forces in or near war zones to provide medical assistance to the wounded personnel of all nationalities and not be used for any military purpose. Hospital ships possibly existed in ancient times and the Athenian Navy had a ship named Therapia. However, it was only during the 17th century that it became a common practice for the naval squadrons to be accompanied by large ships with the facilities of carrying the wounded after each engagement. In 1860, the steamships HMS Melbourne and HMS Mauritius were equipped with genuine medical facilities. They were manned by the Medical Staff Corps and provided services to the British expedition to China. During the World War I and World War II, passenger ships were converted for use as hospital ships and were started to be used on a massive scale. RMS Aquitania and HMHS Britannic were two famous examples of hospital ships used extensively. Modern US hospital ships USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are operated by Military Sealift Command of the US Navy. Their primary mission is to provide emergency on-site care for US combatant forces deployed in war or other operations.

Keywords: Navy, hospital ships, history


How to cite this article:
Ray S, Naidu C S. Navy Hospital ships in history. J Mar Med Soc 2017;19:63-5

How to cite this URL:
Ray S, Naidu C S. Navy Hospital ships in history. J Mar Med Soc [serial online] 2017 [cited 2019 Nov 15];19:63-5. Available from: http://www.marinemedicalsociety.in/text.asp?2017/19/1/63/213104


  Introduction Top


A hospital ship is designed primarily as a floating hospital. They are operated by the Naval forces of different countries and can be used in or near war zones. As per the Second Geneva Convention, hospital ships are supposed to provide medical assistance to the wounded personnel of all nationalities and not be used for any military purpose or be interfered by any enemy ship. They are protected from war. As per the San Remo Manual on International Law applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea, 1994, 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. Hospital ships are required to display large red crosses or red crescents to signify their Geneva Convention protection under the laws of war.[1],[2] Many British hospital ships were destroyed or damaged by the enemy during theFirst World War (WWI). For example, the hospital ship Rohilla was sunk near Whitby when evacuating wounded troops.


  Hospital Ships in Ancient Times Top


Hospital ships possibly existed in ancient times. The Athenian Navy had a ship named Therapia and the Roman Navy had a ship named Aesculapius, these names indicating that they may have been hospital ships. It was only during the 17th century that it became a common practice for the Naval squadrons to be accompanied by large ships with the facilities of carrying the wounded after each engagement. The first such known ship was the HMS Goodwill, commissioned in 1680 for the Royal Navy [Figure 1]. During the Tripoli piracy era of 1803 and 1804, Commodore Preble designated the captured ship Intrepid as a ship with hospital duties. Intrepid is better known, however, as the ship that sneaked under the eyes of the enemy and blew up Philadelphia held captive by the Tripolitans.
Figure 1: Hospital ships were first used during the evacuation of port in the 1680s.

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In 1859, the threat of yellow fever, an epidemic brought on by seamen returning from foreign ports, led to the first floating hospital in America. The infected sailors were turned away and refused admission by the New York Marine Hospital, and it was necessary to find a place to treat them. A local physician, Dr. William Adison, who recently returned from England where he had studied in the floating hospital ship Caledonian, suggested a similar vessel. After his idea was accepted, the port authorities voted funds to purchase the steamer Falcon. Her engines were removed, the deck was housed over, and other necessary facilities were installed. Fittingly enough, the name was changed to the Florence Nightingale, and a number of patients were cared for onboard the ship.[3]

In 1860, the steamships HMS Melbourne [Figure 2] and HMS Mauritius were equipped with genuine medical facilities. They were manned by the Medical Staff Corps and provided services to the British expedition to China. The ships provided relatively spacious accommodation for the patients, had good hygiene and sanitation practices, and were equipped with an operating theater. During the same period, USS Red Rover was deployed to aid the wounded soldiers of both sides during the American Civil War, serving the Mississippi Squadron. Her medical complement included nurses, who in addition to caring for and transporting sick and wounded men, provided medical supplies to other Navy ships of the fleet. During the Crimean War, the only military hospital available to the British forces fighting on the Crimean Peninsula was at Scutari near the Dardanelles. Over the course of the Siege of Sevastopol, almost 15,000 wounded troops were transported there from the port at Balaklava by a squadron of converted hospital ship.[4],[5]
Figure 2: HMS Melbourne, a hospital ship, served during the Second Opium War.

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  Hospital Ships Used in the World War I and II Top


During WW I and WW II, passenger ships were converted for use as hospital ships and were started to be used on a massive scale. RMS Aquitania and HMHS Britannic were two famous examples of hospital ships used extensively. In WW I, hospital ships were mainly used to transport sick and wounded military personnel from the theaters of operations to the hospital facilities, and in WW II, their use was based on who operated them as the Navy was not the sole authority to operate hospital ships, and for a time, the army also operated them to transport the wounded. The Navy and Army operated hospital ships with different purposes - Navy hospital ships were fully equipped hospitals designed to receive casualties direct from the battlefield and also supplied logistical support to frontline medical teams ashore, while Army hospital ships were essentially equipped to evacuate patients from forward area Army hospitals to rear area hospitals (or from those to the home port) and were not equipped or staffed to handle large numbers of direct battle casualties.[5] The first purposely built hospital ship in the US Navy was the USS Relief which was commissioned in 1921.


  Modern Hospital Ships Top


Modern US hospital ships USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort [Figure 3] are operated by Military Sealift Command of the US Navy. Their primary mission is to provide emergency on-site care for US combatant forces deployed in war or other operations.[6] The ships' secondary mission is to provide full hospital services to support US disaster relief and humanitarian operations worldwide. Each ship contains 12 fully equipped operating rooms, a 1000-bed hospital facility, digital radiological services, a medical laboratory, a pharmacy, an optometry laboratory, an intensive care ward, dental services, a computed tomography scanner, a morgue, 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. A few other countries like Russia, China, Brazil, Peru, and Indonesia also operate dedicated hospital ships of different sizes and facilities on board.
Figure 3: USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) anchored near Port-au-Prince.

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  Other Shipborne Hospitals Top


It is common for Naval ships, especially large ships such as aircraft carriers, amphibious assault ships, and tankers to have onboard wards and operation theaters. However, they are only one small part of the vessel's overall capability and are used primarily for the ship's crew and its amphibious forces (and during missions involving the fleet). They do not qualify as “hospital ships,” as they are not marked and designated as such, and as armed vessels, they are disqualified from protection as a hospital ship under international law.


  Conclusion Top


Almost as long as there have been wars fought on or near waters, there have been vessels used to care for casualties. Although large ships such as aircraft carriers, amphibious ships, and tankers are equipped with sophisticated medical facilities including operation theaters, holding capacity for the injured and their efficient ward-based management can be carried out by hospital ships during a sea battle.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

 
  References Top

1.
The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols. Available from: https://www.icrc.org/eng/war-and-law/treaties-customary-law/geneva-conventions/overview-geneva-conventions.htm. [Last accessed on 2017 Jun 25].  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. International Committee of the Red Cross; 31 December, 1995. Available from: https://www.ihl-databases.icrc.org/applic/ihl/ihl.nsf/385ec082b509e76c41256739003e636d/7694fe2016f347e1c125641f002d49ce. [Last accessed on 2017 Jun 25].  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Burden T. An Overview of US Naval Hospital Ships. Available from: http://www.navalorder.org/articles/2016/8/28/an-overview-of-hospital-ships. [Last accessed on 2017 Jun 28].  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Sutherland Shaw JJ. The hospital ship, 1608-1740. Mar Mirror 1936;22:422-6.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Hospital Ships. Available from: http://www.qaranc.co.uk/hospitalships.php. [Last accessed on 2017 Jun 25].  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Military Hospital Ships. Available from: https://www.thebalance.com/military-hospital-ships-3354133. [Last accessed on 2017 Jun 25].  Back to cited text no. 6
    


    Figures

  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]



 

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Abstract
Introduction
Hospital Ships i...
Hospital Ships U...
Modern Hospital ...
Other Shipborne ...
Conclusion
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