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Type 920 Anwei-class Hospital Ship

China sent the "Peace Ark" navy hospital ship as part of its relief aid to the Philippines, following criticism that it was not doing enough to help its typhoon-hit neighbor. The two countries are currently involved in a territorial dispute. Typhoon Haiyan tore through the central Philippines, leaving over 4,000 people dead and millions displaced. China, which has the world's second largest economy, initially offered $100,000 to Manila. Following domestic and international criticism, it increased its aid contribution by $1.6 million in supplies.

PLA's first new large Hospital Ship was launched in Guangzhou on 29 August 2007. In August 2008 the Type 920 Hospital ship was reported to have successfully conducted a sea trial. The PLA Navy lists this ship as "Type 920" hospital ship. This vessel was launched in the ship yard of CSIC (Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Limited), which is a subsidiary of CSSC (China State Shipbuilding Corporation). The Type 920 Hospital Ship has a transom stem, a bulbous bow, an extended deckhouse with a forward bridge. A helicopter landing deck is on the stern of the vessel. Six Large Red-crosses have been painted on the ship body. The ship is approximately 170 meters long and 25 meters in beam and about 20,000-23,000 tons displacement [other estimates place the displacement at only 14,000 tons, while Xinhua reports 10,000 tons]. China did not give out any statistics, but based on Western hospital ships, the Type 920 probably has a ship crew of about 200 and a medical crew of about 600.

A hospital ship would not seem necessary equipment in an amphibious invasion to Taiwan, since the island is so close to the mainland. However, for operations in the more distant waters of the South China Sea, it would be essential. The simultaneous appearance of the large Type 920 Hospital Ship and the Type 071 Yuzhao class amphibious transport seem to mark the beginnings of a major buildup in China's ability to project power into the South China Sea.

The primary mission of a U.S. Navy hospital ship is to provide rapid, flexible, and mobile acute medical care to support a Marine air/ground task force (MAGTF) deployed ashore, Army and Air Force units deployed ashore, and naval amphibious task forces and battle forces afloat. The Medical Treatment Facility provides a mobile, flexible and rapidly responsive afloat medical capability for acute medical and surgical care in support of amphibious task forces, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force elements, and forward deployed Navy elements of the fleet and fleet activities located in areas where hostilities may be imminent. As a secondary mission, they are capable of providing full hospital services for use of other government agencies involved in the support of relief and humanitarian operations worldwide. During World War II, in the final phases of the Pacific campaign, tactical doctrine for employment of Navy hospital vessels changed, allowing them to function as mobile, definitive-care combat hospitals in direct support of amphibious operations, rather than as transports only. Specially designed ships of the Haven (AH 12) class were built to support this concept.

Type 920 Hospital Ship - Background

By the seventeenth century, vessels especially configured to care for the wounded following engagements at sea routinely accompanied naval squadrons. Pictet noted that by the time of the Crimean War (1853-56) "more than 100,000 sick and wounded were repatriated to England on board hospital transports. Thereafter, no military expedition was ever undertaken without the necessary ships being assigned to evacuate soldiers from the combat area and give them the medical treatment they might require."

It was not until 1868, however, that the international community sought to cloak ships engaged exclusively in the care and treatment of the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked with formal immunity from capture and destruction. Following adoption of the Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in the Armies in the Field of 1864, a diplomatic conference was convened in Geneva for the purpose, among others, of extending to naval forces at sea the protections accorded in that treaty to wounded combatants on land. That effort produced a convention entitled Additional Articles Relating to the Condition of the Wounded in War of 1868,which was never ratified but set forth basic precepts that continue to inform the law of armed conflict relative to hospital ships.

Before the appearance of PLA's new Type 920 hospital ship, the PLA did not have any specially designed dedicated hospital ships in its fleets. Since the Paracel Islands Conflict in 1974 between China and South Vietnam navies, the PLA Navy noticed the hospital ship's importance in modern naval warfare. But economic constraints made the building hospital ship by converting other ships as the first step. In 1990, a Qiongsha Class transport Y832 "Bei Kang" was converted to a medical training ship and a hospital ship and was renamed "Nanyi 09". Later another such ship, either Y833 "Nan Kang" or Y834 "Dong Kang" was converted [not converted by a roll on/roll off ship as some accounts report] and provided to South Sea Fleet. Other ships in a "Nan Yi" sequence are not reported.

Since the CPC leadership called for "Strengthening Military Preparation against Taiwan Island" in the late of 1990s, the PLA Navy entered a period of rapid development. In addition to combat ships, the PLA Navy also built auxiliary military ships.

In 1996, PLA Navy Medical Research Institute successfully developed a "Ship-used Medical Module System" for use on the Shichang (Multirole Aviation Ship). The system is based on international standard container and can quickly set up a fully-functional ship-borne self-contained medical system on civilian ships. Given China's great capabilities in ship-building, the PLA Navy could get sufficient container ships to serve as the supplementary military hospital ship.

The Type 920 Hospital ship is one part of PLA Navy's "Marine Medical Ambulance System" concept. The PLA Navy planned to select some civil 150~500-ton class high performance passenger ships as medical ambulance boat, which would transfer the wounded from the landing zone to the rear large hospital ships. Hi-speed SWATH, Sidewall Hovercraft and Air Cushion Catamaran are options for PLA navy.

The Type 920 is the PLA Navy's first purposely-built hospital ship designed to provide rapid and flexible medical and surgical services at sea. The contractor of the ship is the Guangzhou Shipyard International (GSI). The first hull was launched on 29 August 2007, to be commissioned in late 2008. It joined the two transport-ship converted hospital ships currently being deployed by the PLA Navy.

Type 920 Hospital Ship - Design Heritage

A model of Type 920 Hospital Ship was once displayed in Chinese Military Revolution Museum in Beijing for PLA's 80th anniversary. No detail regarding the ship's performance and capabilities were initially available. It was estimated that the full displacement of the ship was approximately 20,000 tons. The propulsion may be in the form of two diesels, with two shafts. The ship was designed to provide medical treatment for military personnel in the war zone, in particular in an amphibious assault operation. If necessary, the ship could also be deployed for humanitarian relief operations in disaster-devastated regions near coast.

The Type 920 hospital ship could provide a total of about 600 beds as well as other medical treatment facilities. The ship has a single-spot flight deck and a hanger at stern to support 1~2 medium size helicopters such as Z-8 or Ka-28. This enables casualties to be directly airlifted from war zone to the ship. The ship is unarmed, and painted white, with the red cross symbol clearly visible to enjoy Geneva convention protection under the international laws of war.

Sources said that the Type 920 hospital ship was a variant of Type 904 Dayun cargo ship. Both share a similar 20 meter beam, but the Type 920 hospital ship was about 170 meters long, while the Type 904 Dayun cargo ship, built by Hudong Shipyard (Shanghai), was 156 meters long with a beam of about 21 meters. Other sources said that the Type 920 hospital ship was a variant of the Qiandaohu / Fuchi replenishment ship, also built by the Hudong-Zhonghua Shipyard. The Type 920 hospital ship was about 170 meters long, while the Qiandaohu / Fuchi replenishment ship was 178.5 meters long with a beam of about 25 meters. The Type 920 hospital ship really does not otherwise resemble these other ships, which were built at different shipyards.

The Type 920 hospital ship appears generally similar to the Fast Ro-Pax Ferry M/S "Visby" built by Guangzhou Shipyard International. One noticeable similarity is the pronounced flare of the bow sections [not seen in either the Type 904 Dayun cargo ship or the Qiandaohu / Fuchi replenishment ship], which serves to toss aside the choppy seas and to protect it from large waves - important factors in providing a stable platform for performing delicate surgical procedures. Ferries built for Baltic Sea operators had at the time a more pronounced bow flare profile than ferries built for other services. The extensive flare in the bow profile of these vessels had in several instances been blamed as a contributing factor in various casualties involving failure or part-failure of bow visor attachment devices.

The Type 920 hospital ship and Fast Ro-Pax Ferry M/S "Visby" also share a vrey pronounced bulb bow [not in evidence in either the Type 904 Dayun cargo ship or the Qiandaohu / Fuchi replenishment ship]. The bulb bow increases the waterline length, and predisposes the bow wave. It reduces pitching [slower up, slower down] - another contribution to the stability that is important for a hospital ship.

Knud E. Hansen A/S has a large clientele for conceptual and contractual designs among ship owners world-wide. Clients count operators like STENA, Tor-Line, Moby Lines, BC Ferries, Clipper, Phoenix Reederei and many others. Shipyards primarily require our services for the development of Basic Design (including class approval). Clients count shipyards world-wide such as Lloyd Werft, Blohm & Voss, Aarhus Shipyard, Samsung Heavy Industries, Dalian Shipyard, HDW, Astilleros de Huelva S.A., Guangzhou Shipyard International and many others.

The Fast Ro-Pax Ferry M/S "Visby" was built by Guangzhou Shipyard International in China for the Swedish ship owner Rederi AB Gotland. Knud E. Hansen A/S in Denmark developed the basic ship design and contracted on behalf of the shipyard FORCE Technology to undertake the model testing for the project. Two vessels were ordered, and the first vessel was delivered in 2003. The vessel and the sister vessel M/S Gotland were delivered in 2003. The order represented a major breakthrough for GSI into the passenger vessel market as the order was the first in this field. The 2000 Lane Ro-Pax was designed by Knud E. Hansen A/S as a highly flexible Ro-Pax vessel for Guangzhou Shipyard International, Guangzhou in China. The vessel was intended for world-wide service.

Type 920 Hospital Ship - Humanitarian Assistance

Some have suggested that the new Type 920 hospital ship will be making a humanitarian tour in the South Pacific to reinforce other soft power gains made in that region over the last few years. China has had a long involvement with Africa, dating back to the 1960s. Over the following decades, China provided technical expertise, doctors, scholarships, and various other forms of aid. The sending of medical teams and agricultural specialists continues to be a mainstay of its assistance to Africa. More than 15,000 Chinese doctors have worked in Africa since 1963. By 2005 nearly 1,000 Chinese doctors were reportedly working in African countries. In general, African states view China as one of their own - a Third World country.

China's launch of its first large naval hospital ship in August 2007 seemed to some to demonstrate an intention to project increased "soft power" in the maritime realm. There is no inherent reason why China's already significant domestic maritime disaster relief capabilities could not be mobilized in the future to provide humanitarian assistance overseas. The Chinese government recognizes the value of humanitarian assistance, medical diplomacy and national responses to international natural disasters. Providing medical assistance to needy countries, particularly in response to natural disasters, improves international image through people-to-people diplomacy as well as effective communications campaigns.

Upon the approval of the General Staff Headquarters of the PLA, the newly revised Outline of Military Training and Evaluation was formally promulgated and issued to the PLA and the Armed Police Force in July 2008. Some argued that the construction of this new class of Hospital Ship seemed to suggest that PLA is following on its promise. The new outline will come into effect in the PLA and the Armed Police Force from January 1, 2009. The new outline is made up of two major aspects, namely joint training and trainings by various services and arms, and covers all the specialties of various services and arms. With enhancing joint operation capability of the troops as the focus, the outline lays out such training contents as: training at operational level of various services, combined tactics, element training, and tactical and technical training.

The new outline has also developed the training of military operation other than war (MOOTW), increased the proportion of informationization knowledge and expertise as well as simulated training of hi-tech weapons and equipment such as aircraft, naval vessels and missiles, standardized the methods, procedures and criterions of networked, on-base and confrontational trainings, defined conditions, forms, methods and requirements for training under complicated electromagnetic environment, training at night, and training under complicated weather conditions.

The August 2009 US Office of Naval Intelligence report "The People's Liberation Army Navy: A Modern Navy With Chinese Characteristics" stated "Humanitarian assistance and naval diplomacy missions may leverage conventional naval forces, but are more likely to concentrate on flexible expeditionary and multimission capabilities able to respond quickly to crises and provide logistical support at extended ranges from shore. The PRC is unlikely to build ships exclusively for humanitarian assistance missions; however, multimission ships like the Yuzhao LPD and Anwei AH hospital ship will be key assets in support of humanitarian or diplomatic missions."

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