The owners of two giant cruise ships have offered them as floating hospitals to help deal with the coronavirus crisis.
The luxury ships could provide space for more than 2,600 patients in separate cabins and have on-board medical facilities.
They are the 37,000-tonne Saga Sapphire, and the brand new 58,000-tonne Spirit of Discovery which docked this week in the Thames at Tilbury, Essex.
Ironically, the vessels have been withdrawn from sailing around the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the particular vulnerability of the elderly who make up the majority of cruise passengers.
Their UK owners, Saga, are understood to have spoken to government officials to explore their potential use as hospitals and are awaiting a response.
A source said: “The ships are laying idle, the government expects its hospitals to be overwhelmed with coronavirus patients, so it makes sense to look at this option.”
No passengers on either vessel were affected by the coronavirus, though other cruise ships have encountered illness and death.
It led to government advice that over-70s should not holiday on ships – which can act as incubators of the virus.
The Spirit of Discovery was launched last year after being christened by the Duchess of Cornwall and was about to start its first season.
The Saga Sapphire, built in 1981, was about to embark on its final season, with cruises around Norway, the Mediterranean and the British Isles.
Saga would not comment on its offer to the government, and the Department of Health and Social Care was asked for its response.
In the UK, ships have been used as hospitals in the past – notably in the late 19th century when several were moored near Greenwich to help cope with patients during a smallpox epidemic.