A hospital ship is a ship designated for primary function as a medical treatment facility or hospital; most are operated by the military forces or navies of various countries around the world, as they are intended to be used in or near war zones. Firing on a hospital ship is a war crime.
Hospital ships were covered under the Hague Convention X of 1907. Article four of the Hague Convention X outlined the restrictions for a hospital ship:
- Ship must be clearly marked and lighted as a hospital ship
- The ship should give medical assistance to wounded personnel of all nationalities
- The ship must not be used for any military purpose
- Ships must not interfere or hamper enemy combatant vessels
- Belligerents as designated by the Hague Convention can search any hospital ship to investigate violations of the above restrictions
If any of the above restrictions were violated the ship was determined to be an enemy combatant and could be lawfully attacked. However, to deliberately fire on or to sink a Hospital ship complying with regulations would be a war crime.
On 8 December 1798, unfit for service as a warship, HMS Victory was ordered to be converted to a hospital ship to hold wounded French and Spanish prisoners of war. Another early example of a hospital ship was USS Red Rover in the 1860s, which aided the wounded soldiers of both sides during the American Civil War. It was the sighting by the Japanese of the Russian hospital ship Orel, correctly illuminated in accordance with regulations, that led to the Battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese War. Orel was retained as a prize of war by the Japanese after the battle. During World War I and World War II, some passenger liners were converted for use as hospital ships. RMS Aquitania and HMHS Britannic were two examples of ships serving in this capacity.
The last British Royal Yacht, the post World War II HMY Britannia, was ostensibly constructed in a way as to be easily convertible to a hospital ship, but this is now thought to be largely a ruse to ensure Parliamentary funding, and she never served in this role - reputedly her lifts were too small to take standard-sized stretchers.
A development of the Lun-class ekranoplan was planned for use as a mobile field hospital for rapid deployment to any ocean or coastal location at a speed of 297 knots (550 km/h). Work was 90% complete on this model, the Spasatel, but Soviet military funding ceased and it was never completed.
Full article ▸