BAE Systems workers are to refit a former Royal Navy diving ship as a floating medical clinic bound for the Amazon. The diving tender Ixworth is being converted into a clinic complete with doctor and dental surgeries at the Barrow-in-Furness dockyard.
It will sail up the Amazon to Peru later this year, where volunteer medical staff will treat rainforest villagers and people in the remote city of Iquitos.
The ship is to be funded and operated by Scottish-based Christian charity the Vine Trust, a variety of community groups in Barrow, along with local schools.
BAE is donating staff labour time and the use of its workshop in the first non-commercial fitting project undertaken by the defence manufacturer.
The boat is scheduled to leave the Barrow-in-Furness dock at the end of May, when it will undertake a tour of UK ports as part of Sea Britain 2005, the celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. It will then be renamed Amazon Hope 2 by the Princess Royal before heading across the Atlantic.
The trust purchased the decommissioned diving tender from the Ministry of Defence and asked BAE Systems in Barrow if it would refit the 79ft ship.
Because the project is not getting any direct funding from BAE, the trust will have to raise £100,000 to cover the cost of delivering the ship to Peru. BAE is helping the trust to raise the funds by giving presentations to local businesses and BAE subcontractors.
A spokeswoman for the defence contractor, Marianne Buchanan, said: "We've never done anything like this before - we are usually in business to make money. We are converting the ship, but also making it a community fundraising project."
Buchanan said that once on the Amazon, the ship would double as a ferry, taking paid passengers up and down the river to raise funds to maintain the floating clinic.
The project is the second of its kind by the Vine Trust, which also delivered a pilot floating health-service ship to the Amazon in 2001. But, said Buchanan, the Amazon is so long that "it takes forever to go up and down it, so there is a need for another vessel".
ANDREW WOOD, media co-ordinator, Campaign Against Arms Trade
BAE Systems is Europe's largest arms producer. Most of its income comes from the sale of military equipment, including aircraft, ships, submarines, tanks and missiles. In 2003, Britain was the second largest exporter of arms - most made by BAE. It is also the prime beneficiary of the estimated £888m in arms export subsidies.
BAE Systems promotes itself with the corporate catch-phase "innovating for a safer world" while its products increase the likelihood of armed conflict. BAE Systems' CSR report does not mention that its products are designed to kill, nor does it estimate the number of people, mostly civilians, who are killed or injured by them.
I would ask the Vine Trust how they square working with a firm whose products result in killing and maiming, with its own mission to relieve pain and suffering.