The end of 2004 and beginning of 2005 will forever remain etched in the memory for many across the world, and particularly Asia. One day after Christmas, in 2004, an earthquake of 9.1 on the Richter scale struck off the coast of Indonesia near Banda Aceh at 07:59 am. In under 20 minutes, more than 100,000 perished in Indonesia. An hour and a half later, parts of Thailand were inundated with many casualties. The waves hit the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Indian Sub-continent, off the coast of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu were hit with devastating effect. Parts of Sri Lanka got swept away. The Tsunami left more than 230,000 dead and a trail of destruction that was unimaginable in its wake across South-East and South Asia, including India, and as far as South Indian Ocean and South Africa.
The Indian Armed Forces were mobilised immediately. The Indian Navy launched one of the largest Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations (HADR) in its history; Operation ‘Madad’ on the mainland, Operation ‘Sea Waves’ in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Operation ‘Castor’ in the Maldives, Operation ‘Rainbow’ in Sri Lanka and Operation ‘Gambhir’ in Indonesia. The Navy deployed 19 ships and numerous helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for the relief operations. The Navy did the heavy lifting in the post Tsunami relief operations.
It is imperative to understand what is covered under the ambit of Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations. The United Nations highlights Humanitarian Relief Operations as operations due to natural or man-made disasters in areas beyond the relief capacity of national authorities alone.
Seen in this context, Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations and the Indian Navy are no strangers to each other. However, the naval assistance post the Tsunami in 2004 brought global recognition in terms of the Indian Navy’s HADR capabilities
The Indian Navy, within India, has over the years been one of the major contributors for providing relief and rescue particularly during times of floods and water related incidents and accidents. From rescue operations during the devastating ONGC oil rig accident in July 2005 to the recent readiness to deal with the aftermath of Cyclone MAHA on the West Coast of India, the Indian Navy has been omnipresent for India and her citizens. One of the most notable relief operations was Operation ‘Madad’ launched in 2018 when Kerala sought Indian Navy’s assistance for carrying out Search and Rescue operations in low lying flooded areas of Ernakulam and Idukki districts due to opening of Cheruthoni dam shutters and Wayanad district following heavy rains.
The Indian Navy has been extremely active in responding to the call from both Indian citizens and citizens of India’s friends across the Indian Ocean Region and beyond too. The year 2006 saw the Indian Navy mounting an operation to evacuate Indian citizens; as also Sri Lankan, Nepalese and some Lebanese, from Beirut after onset of hostilities due to the Israel – Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon. Aptly named Operation ‘Sukoon’, the naval task force evacuated 2280 people from the war zone.
The Navy has also undertaken flood relief operations in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Mozambique, carried relief materials in the immediate neighbourhood and beyond, and also evacuated Indian and foreign nationals during Operation ‘Rahat’ in 2015. This operation is the biggest Non-Combatant Evacuation undertaken from a conflict zone, during which 3074 people (including 1291 foreigners) were evacuated from war-torn Yemen by warships of the Indian Navy.
The COVID-19 pandemic also saw the Indian Navy launching Operation ‘Samudra Setu’ to provide relief to countries in the extended neighbourhood and get Indian citizens stranded in these countries back to India. This approach has been aided by the Indian Navy’s philosophy of Mission Based Deployments.
The Indian Navy has time and again demonstrated its ability to be the first off the block as a reliable partner for every conceivable operation and mission, particularly so in the past few decades. This capability and approach has made the Indian Navy the Preferred Security Partner for most nations in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond. The service has today emerged as a professional, resolute, indefatigable, dependable and enduring team player not only for its citizens, but also her neighbours, with a foundational ethos of being just a call away for India and her friends!
Script: Sumit Kumar Singh, Assistant Editor, Indo Asian News Service