Idled Cruise Line’s Offer: Use Our Ships as Hospitals. Is That a Good Idea?

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Critics said that Mr. Trump’s idea could be a way for the company to carve out new revenue, camouflaged as a sunny public relations maneuver, with costs that could include staffing and maintenance.

“It’s a way of generating income, so they can generate a million or two million in income. They’re not idiots,” said Ross Klein, a sociologist at Memorial University of Newfoundland who studies the cruise industry.

Mr. Klein said that it was suspicious that the Trump administration would not look to other cruise companies around the world that might make a contract competitive. Carnival, he said, could dock off the American coasts as the beneficiary of friendly loopholes in the tax code, which have allowed the company to pay virtually no corporate taxes.

“Why not put out a bid?” Mr. Klein said. “Maybe there’s a foreign vessel that would come over here and do it cheaper.”

To help alleviate the pressure on hospitals, Mr. Trump on Wednesday promised that two Navy hospital ships would be deployed to the east and west coasts and “launched over the next week or so,” a claim that Mark T. Esper, the defense secretary, had to quickly walk back, saying it would take at least several weeks.

Unlike the Carnival ships, the U.S.N.S. Comfort, which is being prepared in Norfolk, Va., is outfitted with a hospital-like layout and geared for trauma care, with as many as 1,200 doctors, nurses and other medical specialists, who can use the ship’s dozen operating rooms and radiological and laboratory resources. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York called the U.S.N.S. Comfort “literally a floating hospital.”

“The Navy hospital ships were purposefully altered to be floating hospitals,” said Bryan McGrath, a national security consultant and managing director of the FerryBridge Group. “Carnival cruise ships are built for a very different purpose, and I suspect a bit of a gimmick here in using them for this purpose in order to justify provision of economic relief to the cruise ship industry.”

Noah Weiland reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York. Tariro Mzezewa contributed reporting.

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