‘Samudra Setu’ posed unique challenges, says Vice Chief of Navy

Vice Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral G. Ashok Kumar.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On the heels of the Navy embarking on seaborne repatriation of Indians stranded overseas owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vice Admiral G. Ashok Kumar, Vice Chief of the Naval Staff, said that the force was at the ready for evacuation of Indians from abroad or for movement of stranded islanders within India, as and when ordered by the Government of India.

“The Navy is fully geared up to undertake any such requirements. The scope of Op Samudra Setu [which the ongoing mission is called] will depend on the number of our citizens requiring evacuation. This is being worked out by various organs of the government. We are ready to deploy more ships and also undertake a number of trips as the situation demands. While we continue to hope for the best, we are ready for the worst,” Vice Admiral Kumar told The Hindu in an interview done over phone and email.

INS Magar entered Male in the Maldives on Sunday for continuing evacuation of Indians from the island nation hours after the first lot of 698 evacuees were brought to Kochi by INS Jalashwa.

‘Different this time’

While the Navy had carried out some massive evacuation operations in the past, it was altogether different this time around thanks to the COVID-19-specific requirements, Vice Admiral Kumar said.

“We had to ensure safety of the crew as well as the evacuees. Since our operational deployments are on fully, the commands had implemented numerous steps to ensure crew safety. The crew remains as a unit for 14 days in harbour before the ship is deployed and proper screening is done. The fact that we have not had a single case [of infection] on board any ship is a credit to these measures. For the safety of the evacuees, relevant areas onboard the ships have been thoroughly sanitised, additional medical gear and personnel — including women officers and Military Nursing Service personnel — and isolation facilities created on board. Crew rationalisation was also done in view of safety measures like social distancing. The additional paramedic training conducted for our personnel will come in handy in an emergency,” he said.

‘Logistics support handy’

The Vice Admiral said that the concept of mission-based deployment adopted by the Navy in 2017 helped it maintain a continuous presence at important areas in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). It also resulted in enhanced maritime domain awareness, foreign cooperation initiatives like joint Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) patrols and coordinated patrols and ability to swiftly respond to any Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) situation. “Therefore, the logistics support for regular extended deployments and the familiarity developed of the entire IOR do come in very handy while undertaking such operations. In any case, sustenance and prolonged presence in any area is our strength. But the challenges were unique and different this time,” he said.

Before its arrival at Male, the Jalashwa’s crew had undergone mandatory quarantine. The vessel, the Navy’s second biggest, also stocked HADR and COVID-protection material for 1,000 people in addition to other medical stores. It took on extra medical personnel and set up disinfectant mist spraying at entry point, and UV sanitisation of stores. Disinfection teams were created and social distancing protocols implemented. The crew to handle the evacuees were separated from those involved in operations. Separate accommodation was arranged for women, children and the elderly. Protocols were evolved for embarkation, baggage disinfection and for daily medical screening and social distancing while on the voyage. The evacuees were put at ease with facilities for entertainment, regular medical checks and permission to walk on flight deck during designated hours.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 4:52:21 AM |

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