Tokyo, April 12 (Jiji Press)–The Japanese government will reopen an investigation into whether to introduce hospital ships that offer medical treatment during disasters, according to officials at the Cabinet Office.
The move follows heightened calls for the introduction of such ships to address the spread of the new coronavirus in the country, the officials said. The Cabinet Office plans to compile a report by the end of March next year.
The investigation will look into the necessary functions on hospital ships and the methods for maintaining medical staff onboard during disasters, as well as how to manage the ships when they are not necessary.
At a parliamentary meeting in February, health minister Katsunobu Kato stressed the need to consider the use of hospital ships. A suprapartisan group of lawmakers was recently formed to promote the introduction of such ships.
In a press conference on Friday, Ryota Takeda, minister for disaster management, said the government will study the matter seriously to contribute to the safety of citizens’ lives.
The government once investigated the merits of hospital ships in the aftermath of a major earthquake and tsunami that struck the country’s northeast in March 2011, but was against introducing them due to high construction costs.
A report drawn up at the time said hospital ships cost up to 35 billion yen per ship to build, with maintenance fees of up to 2.5 billion yen per year.
It also found that the swift and long-term acquisition of medical staff for the ship would be difficult, and that it would not be able to stop at a port in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Collecting funds from the private sector was found to be difficult.
The report also said that turning an existing ship, such as those of the Self-Defense Forces, instead of building a new ship was worthy of consideration.
Disaster response exercises utilizing SDF vessels and commercial ferries have been conducted since 2013.