China's largest hospital ship began its first exercise in mid-March in the East China Sea, the Chinese army's official newspaper reported yesterday.
The move signaled China is now among a few nations capable of performing more complicated offshore missions because of advanced medical support, military experts have said.
The exercise tested the medical facilities' functioning at sea, the People's Liberation Army Daily quoted Shen Junliang, a medical specialist onboard, as saying.
Captain of the 10,000-ton Daishandao Yu Dapeng said more exercises will be conducted to ensure it can provide sound medical support in complicated situations.
Daishandao, which was completed on Dec 22, is functioning solely as an at-sea medical treatment facility. Other nations rely on multifunctional or converted ships for medical tasks.
The Chinese navy will use the vessel for overseas and offshore missions, experts said.
The ship, which has more than 500 beds, eight surgery rooms and state-of-the-art facilities, can accommodate 40 major surgeries a day - about as many as a large hospital in Beijing, experts said.
"The hospital ship can help China perform more humanitarian tasks worldwide," Major General Peng Guangqian, a military strategy expert with the Beijing-based Academy of Military Science, said.
Daishandao is not China's first hospital ship. Shichang, a training ship completed in late 1996, can also perform medical tasks for the Chinese navy.
The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Brazil also had or now have hospital ships.
The US navy is estimated to spend $140 million annually to operate its jumbo hospital ships, including the aircraft carrier-sized Mercy and Comfort, both of which have a displacement of about 70,000 tons.
The British navy retired all of its hospital ships in the 1980s, leaving multifunctional vessels to perform medical tasks.
Hospital ships display large Red Crosses or Red Crescents, signifying their protection under the Geneva Convention. They are regarded as humanitarian vessels, and firing upon them is a war crime.
Source: China Daily