It has been an exceptional feat for the India Navy and Coast Guard to perform by undertaking rescue operation
When Cyclone Ockhi struck parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu during the intervening hours of Nov 29 and 30, the immediate action of the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard not only saved thousands of lives and their property but also gave a glimpse of the impeccable planning and execution capabilities of our Navy and the Coast Guard.
The manner in which our maritime forces anticipated the gravity of cyclone Ockhi and the way they responded to the SOS calls was nothing short of a thriller. Here is a brief account of the way our forces saved the lives of
fishermen stranded at the sea, people living in the coastal areas and their property.
The Indian Navy, Coast Guard launched Operation Sahayam in coordination with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) with an aim of searching and rescuing stranded fishermen, their boats and ships. The operation also aimed at providing relief and rehabilitation to the people affected by the cyclone in the coastal areas.
Initially, six warships and two coast guard ships were immediately deployed along the Kerala coast with additional air support. At 22:00hrs on Nov 30, the Coast Guard search and rescue vessel, ICGS Samarth, sailed from Kochi and other seven units were directed to work on rescue along and off Kerala coast. Another vessel, C-427, which was around Vizhinjam was also pressed into service. In addition to this, the Eastern Naval Command launched P8I Maritime Patrol aircraft to monitor the vast stretches of the ocean. The same day, the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre had activated International Safety Net for all merchants’ vessels in the area to be alert and to provide assistance to stranded fishermen.
In the meantime, two more offshore patrol vehicles (OPV) of the Coast Guard were deployed near Kanyakumari and 1 OPV near Toothkudi. Additional Dornier sorties were also taken up in the area. This quick action resulted in the rescue of many fishermen off the Vizhinjam coast.
In the morning of Nov 30, Indian Navy’s P8I Aircraft from INS Rajali sighted seven survivors hanging on to a capsized boat. They were stranded about 25 miles West of Trivandrum. The aircraft approached them and dropped life raft in the vicinity and reported the exact position to the command centre. In less than a few minutes, ships in the area were diverted to render assistance to the survivors. A few hours later Indian Navy’s Advanced Light Helicopter spotted eight other survivors who were stranded at a distance of 20 nautical miles off the Trivandrum coast. An oil tanker MV Energy Orpheus had rescued two critically injured. The ALH dropped a life raft and picked up the critically injured survivors from the tanker. A Naval Seaking helicopter was launched to recover eight remaining survivors.
Rescue in Pitch Darkness
On Dec 2 the reconnaissance aircraft of the Indian Navy spotted a lone survivor who was perched on a capsized boat. The fishing boat was sinking and there was very little time left. As the rescue helicopter arrived, it was pitch dark and the waters were raging. The only way to rescue him was to attempt a near-death mission which meant that a diver be dropped into a raging swell of the sea from a height of about 10 feet.
As the cyclone intensified, about 24 more stranded fishermen were spotted by the Indian Navy. As soon as the information was received, all assets in the vicinity were notified. This resulted in the rescue of seven people by MV Energy Orpheus, four were picked up by INS Jamuna, eight by an ALH, three by a trawler and two were rescued by MV KUN LUN SHAN. An hour later, the P8I reconnaissance aircraft spotted additional 15 people in the water. An ALH was pressed into service immediately and five survivors were airlifted to Trivandrum. At around 3.15PM the same day many more stranded at sea were spotted. Sixteen of them were picked up by air/surface units. To rescue the remaining, a Seaking 42B helicopter, Dornier aircraft, an ALH and a P8I were immediately diverted to the area. By 4.50PM, more than 45 survivors were rescued by the Indian Navy.
Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief
Along with continuous search and rescue operations, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) assistance to the survivors were also of paramount importance. The Indian Naval ships, INS Shardul, INS Sharda and INS Chennai, were all embarked with HADR items. The INS Shardul sailed out to Minicoy Islands and INS Sharda for Androth Islands. INS Chennai delivered relief materials to Kavaratti islands.
As the cyclone progressed further north, the Lakshadweep Islands became the target of the storm. The Indian Naval ship, INS Nireekshak, Jamuna and Sagardhwani braved the heavy storms and reached the Islands soon and began SAR (search and rescue) operations. Two other vessels loaded with Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) items for Lakshadweep were also pressed into service to augment the search effort. The entire operation was being
coordinated with the Coast Guard and the state administration.
The worst was not yet over. Disturbing reports and SOS messages were received from both Minicoy and Androth Islands. By the dawn of Dec 2, the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and the Air Force had deployed 20 ships, 8 aircrafts, 5 helicopters. By 4 PM the same day, the forces had saved 261 fishermen and other stranded personnel. Marooned fishing vessels were taken under tow and rescued by the Indian Naval ships.
The SAR operations continued throughout the day on Dec 2 as INS Kolkata also joined the efforts. At around 4 PM, INS Kolkata rescued 9 fishermen from FV Akash after it was located by a P8I aircraft 150km east of Kavaratti. All survivors were then transferred to Kavaratti by Indian Naval Seaking Helicopter. Minutes later, INS Sharda had rescued 8 fishermen from FV Albu Dhamal and 12 from FV Infant Jesus. A fishing Vessel Island Queen with 9 crew members from Kochi had been missing for the last 15 days.
The SAR operations continued even on Navy Day i.e Dec 4, without any respite. Even as the storm decreased in intensity, thousands were still in need of relief and food at Lakshadweep islands and coastal areas of Kerala. Navy Day is the day of celebration and commemoration for the Indian Navy. However, due to the ongoing Ockhi cyclone operations, the Navy personnel had to work even on this day to safeguard the lives of common Indians.