Top 10 Largest Hospital Ships Worldwide: Uncovering Their Origins and Evolution

Top 10 Largest Hospital Ships Worldwide: A hospital ship is built to function as a floating hospital on an ocean or sea, providing medical care including minor to major surgeries, pharmaceutical prescriptions, and other services.

It makes one wonder why and when they were even invented. But since they have been around since antiquity, they are not a contemporary occurrence.

Therapia was a ship in the Athens fleet, while Aesculapius was a ship of a similar name in the Roman navy. Their designations and depictions suggest that they were medical vessels, offering solace to the injured and ill.

Why are Hospital Ships needed in the world?

In recent times, a nation’s navy runs the majority of hospital ships and uses them in times of peace, conflict, international crises, natural catastrophes, etc.

The medical professionals, equipment, and medications required for surgery, as well as infrastructure, are in low supply in developing countries. The second group of impoverished people lives in remote areas far from hospitals and near the sea. In addition to not having enough money for treatment, they lack access to basic medical care.

Hospital ships visit these individuals and provide them with prompt, nearly free medical care in all of these instances.

Hospital Ship Utilization During World War II

Old and out-of-service battleships were converted into hospitals in the 19th century to care for soldiers. Several passenger liners, like the RMS Aquitania and the HMHS Britannic, were converted to serve as floating hospitals during World War II, and this led to the widespread use of hospital ships.

The hospital ships stand out from other ships thanks to their white paint job and red cross on a white flag. Their furnishings, utensils, and décor are all designed to evoke the atmosphere of a land-based hospital.

Even hospital ships have been the target of military attacks during World Wars I and II, despite the Second Geneva Convention’s prohibition on such actions. For example, despite their rank, the German boat that sank Canada’s SS Letitia (i) and HMHS Llandovery Castle claimed several lives.

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In this article, let’s examine the top ten largest hospital ships.

Top 10 Largest Hospital Ships Worldwide

1. MV Global Mercy

MV Global Mercy
(Credit: Stena Roro)

MV Global Mercy, the largest civilian hospital ship in the world, was constructed as a floating medical facility for Mercy Ships. This humanitarian organization is in charge of the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world.

At the Tianjin Xingang Shipyard in Tianjin, China, CSSC constructed it, finishing it in 2021. It was initially made public when she sailed to Rotterdam for a two-week layover the following year. It soon embarked on its first trip to Africa, where Africa Mercy, another hospital ship, accompanied it. After then, Global Mercy started operating as a floating training center in Dakar, Senegal.

In terms of dimensions, it has 12 decks, measures 174 meters in length, and weighs 37,000 tonnes. Located on decks 3 and 4, the hospital offers supply services, six surgery rooms, 102 beds, seven intensive care units, and ninety-nine sef-care beds.

Additionally, it has simulator rooms and classrooms for medical professional training. There are 612 guest rooms, conference rooms, and workspaces. Children of the volunteers serving on board can attend a K–12 academy.

2. MV Africa Mercy

MV Africa Mercy
(Credit: Vessel Finder)

Mercy is the second-biggest hospital ship. It has a 6 m draft and measures 152 m long by 23.7 m broad. In 2007, it underwent conversion from the MS Droning Ingrid rail ferry.

It comprises eight decks, the lowermost of which house an ophthalmology unit, an ICU, a CT scanner, labs, a recovery area accommodating about eighty-two patients, and a hospital with five operating rooms.
484 crew members have residential quarters on the upper decks. There are 126 cabins, a restaurant, grocery stores, gyms, shops, a Starbucks cafe, a school for all age groups, a library, and a washing room.

In addition to offering onboard surgical care, the ship also conducts land-based procedures and mental health programs for terminally sick patients. 28 vehicles are with the ship for its shore-based operations.

Everything needed for certain surgeries requested by citizens of a nation this ship is visiting is available in the operating rooms.

Diseases like hernias, tumors, burns, cataracts, childbirth injuries, etc. can become serious when it travels to the poorest countries, and those who have them are rejected by their community. As a result, the doctors on board tend to them and restore their normal lifestyles.

3. USNS Mercy

USNS Mercy

Leading ship in her class, USNS Mercy is a non-commissioned U.S. Navy vessel. This hospital ship is equipped with defensive weapons but no offensive ones.

In 1976, the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company located in San Diego, California, constructed the SS Worth, a San Clemente-class oil tanker. But when she was converted into a hospital ship and put into service the next year, in 1984, her name was changed.

To support Marine Corps Air and Ground Task Forces, Navy amphibious task forces, Army and Air Force troops, and battle forces, USNS Mercy aims to provide medical and surgical operations.

She can also perform military activities in times of peace, provide humanitarian aid, and perform surgery for government organizations during emergencies.

The ship is homeported in San Diego and has a capacity of 1000 patient beds. It contains numerous departments, including labs, two oxygen-producing plants, radiography, physical therapy, and burn treatment; additionally, it has a dental unit, optometry, angiography, blood bank, and morgue.

4. Esperanza Del Mar

Esperanza Del Mar
(Credit: Vessel finder)

The Izar Group’s Gijon Yard constructed the Spanish hospital/medical ship Esperanza Del Mar in 2001. It was designed to work in inclement weather and provide medical support as needed.

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It can readily accommodate 17 patients and 30 individuals who have accidents at sea, and it offers nice quarters for 41 crew members.

The ship is capable of helping other ships in need and participating in salvage operations. In the event of a natural disaster, it can also hold logistics support goods and transport scientific research containers. It features a helideck and a facility for refueling helicopters. The ship’s low noise levels and maneuverability are some of its unique design qualities.

5. Daishan Dao

Daishan Dao

The Chinese Navy’s Type 920 medical ship is the flagship ship and the only vessel of her class. Guangzhou Shipyard International Company Limited constructed it, and it was introduced in 2007 to provide China with a way to provide more effective and timely humanitarian aid in the event of a worldwide emergency. Some contend that it enables China to increase its capabilities in the Blue Water.

After being put into service in 2008, it set out on a historic expedition to the Gulf of Aden two years later, carrying 100 medical personnel and 428 officers. She provided medical care to the villagers when she traveled to Djibouti, Kenya, Bangladesh, Seychelles, Tanzania, and Kenya.

The vessel, also known as the Peace Ark, provided medical care to thousands of people while visiting Djibouti, Gabon, Sierra Leone, Congo, Mozambique, Angola, and Tanzania.

With 300 beds, 8 operating rooms, and 20 intensive care units, the ship allows physicians to conduct roughly 40 procedures every day. On this cruise, traditional Chinese medicine is also available. She has a networking and remote communications technology that enables her to hold teleconferences with medical professionals and specialists on the ship.

6. Irtysh


The Russian Navy’s Ob-class hospital ship was built to provide medical services. It is a member of the Pacific Fleet and can accommodate uniformed navy medical professionals despite having a civilian crew.

Its objective is to receive, disperse, and provide medical assistance to the ill, injured, and wounded in both peaceful and hostile circumstances. It also performs missions of evacuation from other ships.

Adolf Barsky, Szczecin, was contracted in 1981 to build the Irtysh. 1989 saw her launch, and 1990 saw her put into service.

All surgical and medical equipment is on board the 145.7 m long, 6.2 m draft vessel. She underwent two upgrades in 2016 and 2017 to include telemedicine technology.

The ship has enough for 207 crew members and 300–450 patients. She has a 19 knot top speed and her homeport is Vladivostok.

7. M/V Pacific Hope

MV Pacific Hope

The medical relief ship Pacific Hope can hold up to 60 passengers and features a general medical facility as well as a dentistry clinic. Its dimensions are 54.1 m in length and 20,0000 nautical miles in range. It was built in 1983.

It was formerly under the control of Marine Reach New Zealand after completing its missions in Vanuatu and Fiji. In 2018, it moved to the Caribbean to assist with hurricane recovery efforts.

Its aim is to provide medical aid worldwide to the underprivileged and reinstate hope in the poorest parts of the world.

Using medical assistance, youth development, educational outreach, training programs, building repairs, supply distribution, and building construction, Marine Reach Global spreads the gospel and shows Christ’s love. The MV Pacific Hope and YWAM Barbados help it manage the activities.

8. KRI dr. Radjiman Wedyodiningrat (992)

KRI dr. Radjiman Wedyodiningrat (992)

The second Sudirohusodo-class hospital ship of the Indonesian Navy bears the name of Rajiman Wediodiningrat, a well-known national hero who was a physician and an important part in Indonesia’s formation.

On September 10, 2020, work on it started, and on January 21, 2021, a year later, the keel was laid. On August 15, 2022, she was launched and given a name. In January 2023, the ship was finally put into service.

The ship is getting ready for a potential deployment to support the Palestinian people following the Israel-Hamas conflict in 2023 and Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

Radiology, surgery, and postoperative rooms are available at KRI Dr. Radjiman Wedyodiningrat (992). There are 46 therapy rooms and an isolation space as well. In addition, there is a lab, a morgue, an emergency room, and a baby room.

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The ship is 7300 tonnes in weight and 124 meters long. The ship can carry 163 crew members, 18 heli pilots, 66 medical personnel, 158 patients, and 280 volunteers. It can travel at a speed of more than 18 knots. It has two ambulance boats and three helicopters on board.

9. Papa Francisco

Papa Francisco

More than a thousand indigenous groups that reside along the river in the northern Amazon region of Brazil need medical aid, which is why this ship was built. It carries Pope Francis’ name as a result of the shipyard Industria Naval do Ceara’s design.

The government of Para provided financial help for the construction of this hospital ship. With a 6 m beam and a speed of 7 knots, it is 32 m long. It features treatment rooms, an operation room, dentistry rooms, immunization rooms, ophthalmologic rooms, and an infirmary with patient beds.

In addition to having a galley, a mess area, a library, and a laundry room, it can house thirty people. Twenty volunteers work as crew members and twenty as medical workers on the ship. The ship sets off on a seven- to ten-day cruise, stopping at as many riverbank settlements as it can before returning to Obidos, its homeport on the Amazon River.

Apart from a few stops during Covid-19 in 2020, it has operated along the Amazon River since 2019. Additionally, it provides food, hygiene kits, and humanitarian assistance to coastal villages with little access to essentials.

10. Khanh Hoa 01

Khanh Hoa 01

It is reportedly among the most cutting-edge and contemporary hospital ships in Southeast Asia. It provides medical care to fishermen, military troops, and locals in the Truong Sa or Spratly Islands.

This ship frequently operates in heavy winds and seas and has an operating theater. Every member of the crew has received basic first aid training, according to Senior Lieutenant Ta Trung Thanh.

Thousands of military troops, fishermen, and locals have been treated on the ship since 2012.

Every two years, Khanh Hoa 01 dedicates two months to servicing the Spratly Archipelago and DK1 platforms. Additionally, military personnel must travel to the island, work on it, and even transport food and water there.

During the 18-nation Komodo exercise, 10 of which were ASEAN members, this ship represented the Vietnamese Navy. Aside from the thousands of Indonesians examined on board, three surgeries were performed.

In summary

The hospital ships run by various non-governmental organizations and national navies are evidence of these organizations’ dedication to providing healthcare and humanitarian relief to the world’s most impoverished.

These floating hospitals are incredible feats of creativity and engineering. They require a lot of energy to run daily and are outfitted with the newest technology. They are, above all, the perfect example of the commitment and empathy of healthcare professionals, many of whom serve on these ships willingly.

Hospital ships can be useful in times of emergency, natural or human-made disasters, war, etc. In the unlikely event that such a scenario occurs, they can even be utilized to temporarily shelter people.

The fact that there are so many hospital ships operating around the clock to provide medical assistance to underprivileged and remote communities worldwide demonstrates the effectiveness of teamwork and collaboration.

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