It is the benign role assigned to the Indian Navy which has been tested repeatedly under the most trying and adverse conditions and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions most proficiently and successfully accomplished
The basic structure of a nation’s naval forces is founded on the concept of capacity and capability build-up to be able to launch full range of operations which a nation is likely to undertake depending upon its geo-strategic location, threat perception and the national security construct engrained in its national strategy. The capability build-up is made versatile and dynamic for the operations ranging from high intensity war fighting on the one end of the spectrum to the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations at the other. The Indian Maritime Doctrine for the Indian Navy accordingly envisages four major roles — Military, Diplomatic, Constabulary and Benign. Maritime forces because of its inherent characteristics of quick mobilisation are extremely useful in the early stages of a crisis for providing relief material, first aid and succour. Accordingly the capacities and capabilities such as mobility, reach, endurance and quick response, coupled with the sealift capability are deeply enshrined in the maritime doctrine.
It is the benign role assigned to the Indian Navy (IN) which has been tested repeatedly under the most trying and adverse conditions and humanitarian assistance & disaster relief (HADR) missions most proficiently and successfully accomplished. The evacuation of Indian citizens and those belonging to as many as 41 other countries by the Indian Navy ships in a daring mission from the conflict zone of Yemen is a shining testimony. It has further established Indian Navy’s capability to execute such tasks with alacrity and professional competence, whatever be the circumstances. Here is a flashback of the past successful missions which have ensured Indian Navy to rightfully gain global recognition that it truly deserves.
Operation Madad/Sea Wave/Castor/Rainbow/Gambhir
On December 26, 2004, the tsunami tidal waves hit the shores of 11 Indian Ocean littoral countries—Bangladesh, Burma, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Malaysia, Maldives, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand. While Indonesia and Sri Lanka were hardest hit, Thailand and India’s south-eastern coast, Andaman and Nicobar Islands suffered extensive damage. The Indian Navy deployed 32 naval ships, seven aircraft and 20 helicopters under the most adverse conditions in support of five rescue, relief and reconstruction missions as part of Operation Madad (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu coast), Operation Sea Waves (Andaman & Nicobar Islands), Operation Castor (Maldives), Operation Rainbow (Sri Lanka) and Operation Gambhir (Indonesia). In a unique initiative, the then Chief of the Naval Staff, without even waiting for the formal sanction from the Government of India, ordered naval ships and aircraft to proceed with despatch along with relief and rehabilitation materials.
As the Israel-Lebanon conflict intensified in July 2006, large numbers of foreigners to the region were desperately seeking to leave the conflict zone. India too had a large number of its citizens entrapped in this hot conflict zone. IN single-handedly undertook the largest civilian evacuation operation at Beirut, Lebanon, from July 21 to 23, 2006. Four Indian Navy ships — Mumbai, Betwa, Brahmaputra and Shakti—under the tactical command of the then Rear Admiral Anup Singh, Flag Officer Commanding Western Fleet, successfully evacuated a total of 1,495 stranded Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepalese and Lebanese nationals, who were brought to safety to the port of Larnaca in south-east Cyprus.
The Beirut sealift by the Western Fleet ships thus brought home 2,280 people to safety that included 1,764 Indian nationals besides nationals from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Lebanon and two Indian origin citizens of United States. In addition, 65 tonnes of relief material such as medicines, clothes and food was also transported to Beirut on August 1, 2006, by Betwa.
The rapidity and success of the safe evacuation of both Indian and foreign nationals had earned accolades for India’s response to the humanitarian crisis. The swift deployment of Indian Navy ships in a theatre of war 4,000 nautical miles (7,200 km) away from its home pointedly underscores Indian Navy’s flexibility, mobility and reach for trans-oceanic operations a truly blue water capability.
Yemen witnessed a fierce battle between Saudi-led coalition and Shiite rebels who have battled their way into various cities. The Red Cross had warned of a ‘catastrophic’ situation in Yemen’s main southern city Aden which witnessed fierce fighting over several weeks. The International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson, Marie Claire Feghali, described the humanitarian situation across Yemen as “very difficult [with] naval, air and ground routes cut off.”
Consequent upon the Government of India issuing an advisory for Indian nationals to leave Yemen, the Indian Navy deployed three ships in support of the evacuation operation. With access to airports within the country denied by warring fragments, sealift was the safest option available to evacuate people.
In a well-coordinated operation involving multiple agencies, INS Sumitra, an offshore patrol vessel, which was deployed for anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden since March 11, 2015, was the first to undertake evacuation. The ship was re-deployed off the Port of Aden on March 30, 2015, and entered Aden Harbour in the evening of March 31, 2015. During frequent evacuation trips heavy shelling was observed by the ship’s crew in Al Hodeidah and the adjoining areas.
Indian Navy ships Mumbai and Tarkash proceeded with despatch from Mumbai on March 30, 2015, for evacuation of Indian nationals from Yemeni ports. The ships escorted two Shipping Corporation of India (Ex Cochin) passenger vessels, Kavaratti and Corals, through the piracy risk area off the Coast of Somalia.
Since the evacuees had gone through agony, faced threat to their lives and were dislodged from their homes, leaving all their belongings behind, instructions were issued by Headquarters Western Naval Command to ensure a comfortable stay for the evacuees during the passage. Accordingly, extensive arrangements were made by the ships’ crew to ensure that all evacuees were well looked after with humane face. Crew living quarters were appropriately prepared to accommodate women, elderly persons and children. The ship also arranged to serve hot meals to all evacuees, despite the limitations ships’ galley (or kitchen). Raising to the occasion the ships’ cooks continuously worked day and night to provide hot meals using the ships own rations. On their arrival on-board, the ship’s medical officers attended to those in need of medical attention. Special care was provided to pregnant women and elderly persons.
The conduct of Indian Navy officers and sailors and their exceptional execution of responsibility which is not their normal task came in for admiration and praise from all concerned. Indian evacuees were proud of their Indian Navy and foreign evacuees were full of gratitude, whilst the international media was awestruck by the rapid response and precision work by the Indian Navy.
Prime Minister lauded the valiant efforts in evacuating citizens from other countries, among the Indians: “Salute the services of our civilian and defence officials and organisations in helping evacuate our citizens from Yemen. Continue your efforts! Seamless cooperation between organisations – Ministry of External Affairs, Navy, Air Force, Air India, Shipping, Railways and State Governments greatly helped in rescue work.”
In keeping with the highest traditions of the Navy, Admiral R.K. Dhowan, Chief of the Naval Staff, was prompt with his laudatory recognition for the valiant efforts of Indian Navy ships under most challenging and hazardous conditions which did India proud. On April 20, 2015, he lavished praises: “Outstanding job. The country is proud of you. The Navy is proud of you. You have done an outstanding job in the face of adversity and danger. You have evacuated 1,783 Indians and 1,291 foreign nationals from over 30 countries, and have given an outstanding example of ‘service before self’.