Just like the Army has set in place contingency plans at 6-hour notice to counter the coronavirus, the Navy, too, has put in a series of precautionary measures to prevent any outbreak on its ships by minimising port calls at foreign shores and continuous medical monitoring of its sailors.
This, even as it continues with its operations in international waters, including missions of geostrategic importance such as anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Africa.
“We have more than 20 ships out at sea at any point in time which includes coastal patrols and harbour patrols, besides the mission-based deployments in international waters. More than 3,000 Naval personnel are on board these vessels and all precautions are being taken in view of the Covid-19 pandemic,” a government official told The Indian Express.
Worldwide, restrictions to check the spread have reduced port calls at foreign shores to a bare minimum. These calls are significant for logistics support, including critical fuel supply to naval ships.
To overcome this problem, Navy has taken to replenishment at sea, including refuelling of ships in international waters using its own vessels. The last such refuelling was done for INS Tarkash this Tuesday. INS Tarkash has been deployed as part of Operation Sankalp, which started last July and monitors the situation in the Gulf of Oman.
Besides Op Sankalp, a naval ship, INS Sunayna, is currently deployed for anti-piracy missions near the Gulf of Aden, off the eastern coast of Africa. There is another naval deployment for patrolling a strategic choke point of the Strait of Malacca, the main shipping channel between the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.
Moreover, two ships of the Navy and one ship of the Coast Guard, as part of the First Training Squadron, are off the islands of Mauritius and Seychelles. These ships did a passage exercise at sea with Mauritius National Coast Guard around March 14, while INS Shardul, as part of this fleet, supplied 600 tonnes of rice to Madagascar on March 12.
Besides these, in international waters, the Navy, currently, has a ship on operational duty in the Bay of Bengal and one in the Indian Ocean Region, while INS Jamuna is undertaking a hydrographic survey in Sri Lanka.
The Navy has also instituted measures to continuously monitor the health and symptoms of its personnel who are part of any planned sailing in the coming days. Medical teams on board vessels are monitoring the health of personnel. This has become critical after three US sailors on a US navy ship, with 5,000 US military personnel onboard, tested positive for coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the Navy continues to be prepared with its quarantine facilities at Mumbai, Vizag and Kochi to meet any exigencies in support of the civil administration. A Dornier aircraft of the Navy, with a team of four doctors from Goa State Health department, flew from Goa to Pune Wednesday. These doctors were carrying samples of Covid-19 patients for testing and will undergo training to set up a test facility in Goa.
However, the Navy doesn’t have any hospital ships in its fleet. This rules out the possibility of using them off the coast for treating patients to take the load off other hospitals. The official said that “whether alternate naval platforms can be used in times of crisis is something which would require a call based on what the situation demands”.
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