And this wouldn't be the first time ocean liners have served.
For some members of this family of cruise lines, serving during great times of need is part of the company DNA.
Carnival Corporation’s family of cruise lines includes some of the world’s most historic, like the British luxury line Cunard and also Holland America Line.
History of Service
Holland America’s roots go back to the 1870’s as a shipping and passenger line providing service across the North Atlantic from Rotterdam to New York City. By the turn of the century the company had already transported 400,000 people from Europe to a new life in America.
It launched its first vacation cruise as early as 1895, but as conflicts arose in the 20th century, the cruise line - known for its fleet of ‘dam’ ships (all named in words ending in ‘dam’) - answered the call.
During the First World War, Holland America’s Ryndam converted from ocean liner to transport for the US Navy.
Just over 20 years later, the original Nieuw Amsterdam sailed half a million miles, transporting close to half a million military personnel during WW2. A sister ship berthed in England served as the seat of the displaced Dutch government. Of 25 HAL ships in existence at the start of the Second World War, only 9 remained when it was over.
Holland America Line isn’t the only modern cruise line with a pedigree of service during international crisis.
Cunard’s service record has even more entries. The British luxury line, founded in 1839 by Canadian Sir Samuel Cunard with a contract to carry British Royal Mail to the US and Canada, has had ships answering the call to serve Great Britain and its allies in every conflict from Crimea in the 1850’s through to the Gulf War in the 1990’s.
Imagine: one Cunard ship carried all of the 7500 horses that charged with the Light Brigade – 200 at a time. Others served as troop transports, store ships… and hospital ships from Crimea onwards.
In the First World War, Cunard ships sailed 3.5 million miles in war service, carrying 9 million tons of food, munitions and cargo, and transporting a million troops. And it was a Cunard ship, the fateful flagship Lusitania, full of 1200 innocent passengers, including Americans, that was torpedoed in 1915, hastening American entry into the First World War.
Less than 30 years later, American GI’s traveled to Europe in World War 2 on Cunard’s original Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth ships. Their success in getting past German U-boats was only one of countless unimaginable feats of maritime service. On one such voyage, the Queen Mary carried over 16,000 troops, sleeping in shifts – a record that has never since been broken. And three times, the same Cunard ship was the epicenter of Britain’s war effort as Sir Winston Churchill crossed the Atlantic en route to confer with US President Roosevelt.
More recently, the current QE2 would serve during the Falklands campaign, with swimming pools converted to the world’s most hazardous helicopter landing zones.
(Top image: Cunard’s 3 Queens and Britain’s Red Arrows in 2018)
Hospital Ships in the Time of COVID-19
So there is a long-established precedent for cruise lines to come to their country’s aid during times of great need.
And this month, Carnival Corporation announced that select ships from its family of cruise lines, including Holland America Line, Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises and P&O Cruises Australia would be available to port communities for use as temporary hospitals during the COVID-10 pandemic.
The initiative would convert and provision ships to provide up to 1000 hospital beds and all non-medical support staff for less-critical, non-COVID-19 patient beds to allow land-based hospitals to free up space for patients with the virus.
These temporary cruise ship hospital rooms, complete with bathroom facilities and private balconies with access to sun and fresh air, as well as isolation, can be quickly installed with cardiac, respiratory, oxygen and video patient monitoring capabilities over the ship's high-speed network. They can also provide more than half a dozen intensive care units in ships’ medical centers.
Carnival Corporation is not alone. MSC Group has already converted a ferry into a hospital ship and delivered it to Genoa, where it will take in patients recovering from COVID-19 in one of the hardest-hit regions of Italy.
COVID-19 continues the cruise industry’s long tradition of stepping forward to serve in times of global crisis.
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