The government will reopen its investigation into whether to build hospital ships for use during disasters, officials at the Cabinet Office said.
The move follows heightened calls to introduce such ships amid the coronavirus pandemic, they said. It plans to compile a report by the end of March 2021.
The probe will look into the functions that hospital ships perform, methods for maintaining their medical staff during disasters, and how to manage the vessels when they aren't needed.
At a Diet meeting in February, health minister Katsunobu Kato emphasized that the use of hospital ships must be considered. A suprapartisan group of lawmakers was recently formed to promote their introduction in Japan.
In a news conference Friday, Ryota Takeda, minister for disaster management, said the government will study the matter seriously to contribute to public safety.
The government investigated the merits of the ships after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, but refrained because of the high construction costs.
A report drawn up at the time said hospital ships cost up to ¥35 billion each to build and generate up to ¥2.5 billion in maintenance fees each year.
It also found that conducting the swift and long-term acquisition of medical staff for such ships would be difficult, and that they would not be able to make port calls in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Collecting funds from the private sector was also found to be difficult.
The report found, however, that converting an existing ship, such as one from the Maritime Self-Defense Force, into a hospital ship was worthy of consideration.
Disaster response exercises utilizing Self-Defense Forces vessels and commercial ferries have been conducted since 2013.