The Indian Navy, which earned worldwide recognition for the aid it provided to Indian Ocean Region (IOR) countries devastated by the earthquake-cum-tsunami of December 2004, has again launched a major naval diplomacy initiative to assist littoral countries in combating the Covid-19 pandemic.
As part of its humanitarian aid and disaster relief (HADR) outreach, five of the navy’s biggest amphibious warfare vessels have been designated on a mission to convey food grains, medical teams and medicines to friendly IOR island states. On their return journey, they will bring back Indians stranded in those countries, as part of the larger Vande Bharat mission to repatriate Indian nationals.
On Wednesday, Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kesari – a 5,600-tonne vessel designed to land army tanks and soldiers on hostile shores -- set sail for the Southern Indian Ocean. Over the next two months, INS Kesari will deliver aid, turn by turn, to Madagascar, Comoros, Maldives and the Seychelles.
Each of those countries will be presented 10-12 tonnes of medicines, while the Maldives will also receive 660 tonnes of food grains. 27 Indian Navy medical personnel will treat patients in Mauritius and the Comoros.
On Thursday, as a part of Operation Samudra Setu (ocean bridge), INS Jalashwa arrived in the Maldives on a mission to evacuate stranded Indian nationals to Kochi on Friday. Jalashwa, a 16,600-tonne amphibious landing ship, is the navy’s second largest warship after the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya.
Capable of carrying over 1,000 civilians, the Jalashwa will embark only 750 due to Covid-19-related distancing norms. The vessel is equipped with extensive medical facilities including four operation theatres, a 12-bed ward, a laboratory and a dental centre. The Jalashwa, which is the only Indian warship procured from the US, also embarks six helicopters.
Under Operation Samudra Setu, a second amphibious warship, INS Magar, will arrive in the Maldives on Thursday to evacuate Indian civilians.
Two more amphibious warfare ships – INS Airawat and INS Shardul – have been earmarked to proceed to West Asia for evacuating Indian nationals stranded in the Gulf countries.
Meanwhile, under Operation Vande Bharat, the army, navy and air force have prepared six quarantine facilities that can accommodate up to 2,100 Indians being evacuated from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Malaysia. These facilities have been established in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bhopal, Kochi, Vishakhapatnam and Chennai.
The Indian citizens, who will be evacuated under the auspices of the Ministry of External Affairs and Ministry of Civil Aviation, will undergo mandatory quarantine in these military facilities, before being permitted to return to their homes.