First to Respond

Indian Navy’s HADR operations are praise-worthy

Younis Ahmad Kaloo

When on 26 December 2004, Tsunami struck due to an undersea earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, within 12 hours the first Indian naval helicopters were in Sri Lanka with relief material. In the next 24 hours, two Indian naval ships were already in Galle and Trincomalee and three others had been dispatched to Male. And within few days, the Indian Navy had converted two of its ships into hospital ships and sent them to Indonesia, which was the worst hit.

Indian Navy with the relief material post 2004 Tsunami
Indian Navy with the relief material post 2004 Tsunami

As India took lead in the relief effort in Sri Lanka following the devastating waves, which had also affected her own coastal states and islands, the USS Bonhomme Richard, a Navy helicopter carrier headed to Sri Lanka to join the US forces in the country, had to change its course to Indonesia. This was because no additional US troops were required as India had already dispatched enough on the largest relief mission — as the officials then described — outside her borders since Independence.

The Indian Navy is the first responder to many crisis situations around the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). Given the fact that the IOR stands significantly exposed to a wide-ranging natural disasters and India’s own vulnerability to them — 58.6 per cent of the landmass is prone to earthquakes of moderate to very high intensity; over 40 million hectares (12 per cent of land) is prone to floods and river erosion; of the 7,516 km long coastline, close to 5,700 km is prone to cyclones and tsunamis — quick access, mobility, availability of the desired relief material and the medical care are some of the key factors that define the Indian Navy’s role in relief operations.

“The Indian Navy is now doing mission-based deployments,” said the Indian Navy spokesperson Captain D.K. Sharma. “Whenever the ships are going out, they are ready for all missions. So, they are also carrying the minimum required for a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) mission”.

Unveiled in the last Naval Commander’s Conference, the concept of mission-based deployments, according to the Indian Navy, involves deploying mission-ready ships and aircraft along critical sea lanes of communications (SLOC) and chokepoints, always ready to meet any eventuality across the spectrum of operations ranging from acts of maritime terrorism and piracy to HADR missions. These deployments are aimed to be maintained 24/7 and round the year with ships being sustained and turned around on station.

“HADR material, which is best required as an immediate relief, is kept ready. With ships already carrying it, they can be diverted anywhere at the shortest possible time,” added Captain Sharma.

As for medical emergencies during the disaster relief operations, though, the Indian Navy still lacks the dedicated platforms — hospital ships — it converts the regular warships and other vessels to serve the purpose.

“All our hydrographic ships can be converted into hospital ships. Also, there is a provision on all ships to convert a room into an operation theatre to deal with the emergency,” said Captain Sharma.

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