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All fishing boats of Gujarat, Maharashtra returned to harbour: IG Coast Guard

A view from Worli side of the Bandra-Worli sealink after traffic was closed due to gutsy winds due to Cyclone Tauktae on May 17, 2021.   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

The Coast Guard coordinates with all stakeholders for accounting and safe return of all boats, vessels and fishermen and as on Sunday all the fishing boats of Gujarat and Maharashtra were reported to have returned to harbour or taken shelter in nearby ports, said IG KR Suresh, Deputy Director General of Coast Guard (Operations & Coastal security).

“Our fishermen are the most vulnerable in cyclone and other adverse weather phenomena in view of smaller size of their boats and limited protection gears with them,” Mr. Suresh told The Hindu in a written interview. “The painstaking efforts put in by the Coast Guard has paid dividends by resulting in no loss of fishermen life at sea as the cyclonic storm Tauktae crossed Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra and Lakshadweep islands,” he stated.

There were a few rescue operations which have been taken care of, Mr. Suresh said. We are also keeping a close eye on a few developing rescue situations off the coast of Maharashtra and have deployed ICG ships, he said.

As part of preventive measures, the Coast Guard has undertaken massive deployment of assets which Mr. Suresh said has translated into 117 ship days and 116 aircraft hours so far ensuring safe return of more than 7,000 boats, alerting/safe routeing of 464 merchant vessels and timely rescue of 38 personnel.

“In addition, the Coast Guard Remote Operating Stations are incessantly relaying weather alert messages in vernacular languages on MMB radio for the seafarers and fishermen. Navtex warnings are being issued regularly and International Safety Net (ISN) has been activated to alert the vessels in/transiting through area,” he said.

To handle the fallout, about 40 disaster relief teams with inflatable boats, life buoys and jackets are on standby all along the western coast for undertaking disaster response operations while medical teams and ambulances have also been kept standby for swift mobilisation. “Our ships and aircraft also remain in ‘go to’ state for responding to any search and rescue, medical evacuation, oil spill contingency etc. arising as an after effect of cyclone,” Mr. Suresh said.

Inspector General K.R. Suresh, Deputy Director General (Operations & Coastal security), Coast Guard speaks to The Hindu.

Excerpts

Can you give an overview of the cyclone situation? What is the latest about the cyclone and its trajectory?

On an average, about 5-6 tropical cyclones form in Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal every year. In fact in last 3 years, a total of 15 cyclones were formed, out of which 7 cyclones occurred in Arabian Sea and 8 in Bay of Bengal. As Coast Guard, it is our job to keep an eye on any developing weather phenomenon over the seas. We got indication of likelihood of a system forming up in south-east Arabian sea as early as May 9-10, 2021 through forecasts of IMD and other weather forecasting agencies.

The instant cyclone i.e. Tauktae, initially generated as a low pressure area over South-East Arabian Sea on the early morning of May 14, 2021 and rapidly intensified into Cyclonic Storm on the midnight of same day. The cyclone presently lies about 165 Km west of Mumbai as an Extremely Severe Cyclonic Storm. It is likely to move North-Northwestward along the predicted trajectory and cross Gujarat coast by May 17, 2021. The cyclone has been given the name ‘Tauktae’ by Myanmar which means 'GECKO', a highly vocal lizard in the Burmese language.

What preparations has the Coast Guard undertaken? Can you give details on the number of assets deployed and measures taken?

At the first indications of formation of a cyclone in Arabian Sea, Indian Coast Guard geared up its preparation towards the preventive and response measures on Western coast including Lakshadweep islands as well as the adjacent coastal state of Tamilnadu. All the ashore, afloat and aviation units were put on high alert and by the time, cyclone ‘Tauktae’ eventually formed in Lakshadweep seas, ICG Ships and aircraft had already alerted fishing boats as well as merchant vessels in the possible route of the storm.

The massive deployment of ICG assets towards preventive measures for cyclone ‘Tauktae’ has translated into 117 ship days and 116 aircraft hours at sea till date ensuring safe return of more than 7000 boats, alerting/ safe routeing of 464 merchant vessels and timely rescue of 38 personnel. In addition, ICG Remote Operating Stations are incessantly relaying weather alert messages in vernacular languages on MMB radio for the seafarers and fishermen. Navtex warnings are being issued regularly and International safety Net (ISN) has been activated to alert the vessels in/ transiting through area. Ships at anchorage have also been advised to take shelter and necessary safety measures.

How are you coordinating with the local administration and other agencies on the ground? What are the preventive measures enforced on the ground to sensitize the coastal communities? (evacuations, messaging fishermen etc.)

The Indian Coast Guard maintains a close liaison and real time communication with local administration and other agencies on the ground in such situations to ensure that there is no loss of valuable life and property at sea. Therefore, all the Port authorities, Oil rig operators, Shipping, fisheries authorities and fishermen associations in the coastal States of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa, Gujarat and UTs of Lakshadweep and Daman & Diu have been informed about the impending cyclone and a close liaison and coordination for safety of boats, vessels and fixed platforms is being maintained. Indian Coast Guard ships and aircrafts have been extensively deployed to relay/ broadcast weather alerts to ships and boats at sea.

DG Shipping has been requested to keep emergency towing vessel ready for any unforeseen eventualities. Our Coast Guard Regional Headquarters West and North-West are in close contact with the State and local administration as well as other stakeholders and taking all preventive and response measures to ensure safety of seafarers and fishermen at sea. Our fishermen are the most vulnerable in cyclone and other adverse weather phenomena view smaller size of their boats and limited protection gears with them. As of yesterday, all the fishing boats of Gujarat and Maharashtra were reported to have returned harbour or taken shelter in nearby ports.

What are the contingencies you have out in place once the cyclone makes landfall?

In addition to preventive measures as described above, Indian Coast Guard remains equally prepared for response operations arising out of contingencies due to cyclone. We have about 40 Coast Guard Disaster Relief Teams (DRTs) with inflatable boats, Life buoys and lifejackets standby all along the western coast for undertaking Disaster response operations. Medical teams & ambulances have also been kept standby for swift mobilisation.

Our ships and aircrafts also remain in 'go to' state for responding to any search and rescue, medical evacuation, oil spill contingency etc. arising as an after effect of cyclone. Till now, the painstaking efforts put in by ICG has paid dividends by resulting in no loss of fishermen life at sea as the storm crossed the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra as well as Lakshadweep islands. There were few rescue operations such as in case of MV Coromondel and 03 fishing boats namely Jesus, Bhadariya and Milad which have been taken care of. We are also keeping a close eye on few developing rescue situations off the coast of Maharashtra and have deployed ICG ships for same.

Coast Guard has been at the forefront in dealing with cyclones. What are the major lessons and the SOPs that you have put in place? Do you have a dedicated team of experts to handle such situations?

Indian Coast Guard is the National Maritime SAR coordinator and has always been at the forefront not only dealing with cyclone but for other search and rescue contingencies at sea as well. The cyclone Okhi in 2017 was an eye opener for all the concerned maritime stakeholders. Coast Guard SoP in dealing with adverse weather phenomena such as cyclone is based on prevention, protection and response mechanism. Largely, the information on any developing weather system is received well in advance through official weather forecasters of GoI and Coast Guard assets are deployed for relaying the alert to the vessel and boats who are in the vicinity or likely to be in the path of the cyclone.

Efforts are devoted to disseminate the information through all means to seafarers and fishermen as quickly and widely as possible so that the probability of mounting a response operation is reduced to minimum. Coordination and liaison with all stakeholders such as Fisheries, Port Authorities, Local Administration and Shipping Authorities is maintained for necessary accounting and safe return of all boats, vessels and fishermen. Ships at anchorage are also advised to take shelter and necessary precautions. Coast Guard operations centre at Central, Regional, District and State level are manned 24x7 and the CG helpline no. 1554 is kept activated, as always. These ops centres are manned by a dedicated team of professional who are well versed to handle such situation.


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Printable version | Jun 13, 2021 9:05:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/interview-with-inspector-general-kr-suresh-deputy-director-general-operations-coastal-security-coast-guard/article34580728.ece

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