We were always ready for evacuation of Indians from abroad, says Vice Chief of the Naval Staff

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

While the Navy has carried out several evacuations of Indian nationals and HADR missions in the past, the one that's being undertaken now is all the more challenging given the risk it poses to the ships' crew and the naval fraternity, by extension. Could you tell us how this was factored in planning for Op SamudraSetu?

The Indian Navy has considerable experience and has played a huge role in numerous evacuation operations in the past. Op Blossom in 2011, to evacuate around 15,000 stranded Indian nationals from Libya to Malta; Op Rahat in 2015 to evacuate around 5000 from Yemen; Op Nistar to bring back stranded fishermen from Socotra; are all recent examples of evacuation operations undertaken by the Indian Navy.

Also read: ‘Samudra Setu’ posed unique challenges

Of course, this time around, it was a lot different. We had to ensure safety of the crew as well as the evacuees. In any case, since our operational deployments are on fully on, 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 on board any ship is a credit to these measures that have been implemented. In addition, to cater to the safety of the evacuees, relevant areas on board the ships have been thoroughly sanitised, additional medical gear and medical personnel embarked, rationalised the capacity to ensure requisite safety measures such as social distancing, created isolation facilities on board in case any COVID-19 symptoms were to be noticed during passage,etc. The additional paramedic training conducted for our personnel is also bound to come in handy in an emergency. We are hopeful that we have done enough to ensure the safety of one and all – the crew as well as the evacuees.

Also read: Indian naval ship arrives in Kochi with evacuees from the Maldives

How has mission deployment helped in the logistics of the operation?

As you are aware, the Indian Navy adopted the concept of Mission Based Deployments in 2017. Our ships have maintained continuous presence at a number of important regions of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). This has helped us not only to compile a comprehensive maritime domain awareness, but also helped us undertake foreign cooperation initiatives with all our friendly foreign countries, react instantly to any developing Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) situation, progress joint EEZ patrols, Coordinated Patrols (CORPATs)etc, thus enhancing Indian Navy’s ability to expeditiously address non-traditional threats, and our status as the ‘preferred security partner’ for all our friends in the IOR. Hence, the logistics support for regular extended deployments, and the familiarity developed of the entire IOR, does come in very handy while undertaking such operations. In any case, sustenance and prolonged presence in any area is the strength of our Navy. Of course, as I said earlier, the challenges that we faced this time around were very different and unique, because of the COVID specific requirements that we had to cater to.

What were the specific, unique challenges posed by this evacuation mission?

Before its arrival at Male, Jalashwa 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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Could you tell us the scope of the operation? Is it going to be under way for some time given that the pandemic is showing no signs of abating?

The Indian Navy is always ready and geared up to undertake any such requirements for the nation. The scope of Op SamudraSetu will depend on the number of our citizens requiring evacuation. This is being worked out by various organs of our government. We are ready to deploy more ships and also to undertake a number of trips as the situation demands. While we continue to hope for the best, we are ready for the worst.

Will the Navy also ferry home islanders of L&M stranded in Kochi?

Yes. The Indian Navy is fully prepared and ready to undertake any such movement of personnel, be it from abroad to India or within India, as and when ordered by the Government of India.

Finally, when are you sending evacuation vessels to the Persian Gulf, which has a sizeable Indian diaspora? Could you give details?

The Indian Navy is ready for repatriation of people from any country. Our ships are prepared. The call, on when and from where, once taken, the Indian navy will execute the plan.

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Printable version | Sep 22, 2021 4:05:14 AM |

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