Operation Samudra Setu, which was launched on 5 May 2020 as part of the national effort to repatriate Indian citizens from overseas during the Covid-19 pandemic has culminated after successfully bringing 3,992 Indian citizens back to their homeland by sea. Indian Naval Ships Jalashwa (Landing Platform Dock), and Airavat, Shardul and Magar (Landing Ship Tanks) participated in this operation which lasted over 55 days and involved traversing more than 23,000 km by sea. Indian Navy has previously undertaken similar evacuation operations as part of Operation Sukoon in 2006 (Beirut) and Operation Rahat in 2015 (Yemen).
The Covid-19 pandemic has had significant impact on ships and seafarers due to the compact environment and forced ventilation systems onboard ships. It was in these trying times and difficult conditions that the Indian Navy took up the challenge to evacuate our distressed citizens from overseas. The greatest challenge for the Indian Navy was to avoid any incident of outbreak of infection onboard the ships during the evacuation operation. Rigorous measures were planned and medical/ safety protocols unique to the operating environment of ships were implemented. These were strictly followed onboard the ships undertaking Op Samudra Setu resulting in the safe return of 3,992 of our citizens to their homeland.
Op Samudra Setu was undertaken utilising Indian Naval ships best suited for the operation, catering for Covid-19 related social distancing norms vis-à-vis medical arrangements and carrying capacity. Ships used for the operation were specially provisioned and the Sick Bay or the clinic onboard was especially equipped with Covid-19 related equipment and facilities. Women Officers and military nursing staff were also embarked for the women passengers. Basic amenities and medical facilities were provided to all evacuees during sea passage on these ships. One of the expectant mothers who undertook passage on Jalashwa, Sonia Jacob, also gave birth to a baby boy within a few hours of reaching Kochi on International Mother’s Day.
Indian Naval ships Jalashwa, Airavat, Shardul and Magar steamed more than 23,000 km during Op Samudra Setu and undertook the evacuation operation in a smooth and coordinated manner. Details of the evacuation are as follows: –
Along with other government agencies, the Indian Navy has also been at the forefront of national efforts to assist our citizens. Indian Naval IL-38 and Dornier aircraft have been used for ferrying of doctors and COVID-19 related material across the country. Indian Naval personnel also innovated various customised equipment such as Personnel Protection Equipment NavRakshak, hand-held temperature sensors, assisted respiratory system, 3-D printed face shield, portable multi-feed oxygen manifold, ventilators, air-evacuation stretcher pod, baggage disinfectants etc. Most of these innovations were carried onboard the ships undertaking Op Samudra Setu and niche equipment was also provided to host countries from where evacuation was undertaken.
Indian Navy utilised its amphibious sea-lift ships for Op Samudra Setu, which has reinforced the flexibility and reach of these multifaceted platforms. Whilst Jalashwa, Magar, Airavat and Shardul were undertaking Op Samudra Setu, another Landing Ship (Tank) Kesari undertook ‘Mission SAGAR’, carrying 580 tonnes of food aid and medical stores including Ayurvedic medicines to Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros Islands and Seychelles, covering over 14,000 km in 49 days. One medical team each was also deployed at Mauritius and Comoros Island as part of the mission.
The 3,992 Indian citizens evacuated during Op Samudra Setu were disembarked at various ports as indicated in the table above and entrusted to the care of respective state authorities. This operation was undertaken by the Indian Navy in close coordination with Ministry of External Affairs, Home Affairs, health and various other agencies of the Government of India and state governments.