As smoke billowed from the streets of Aden following constant Saudi bombardment, two Indian stealth frigates circled the waters a few kilometres from the city. Braving hostile conditions, bad weather, poor visibility, constant bombardment and armed gunmen roaming in boats, INS Tarkash and INS Mumbai would together rescue nearly half the evacuees from Yemen under Indian government’s Operation Raahat. Of the 6,688 Indian and foreign nationals evacuated by the Indian mission, INS Tarkash and INS Mumbai rescued 3,074 persons.
In one incident, a group of AK-47-wielding men threatened to open fire near INS Tarkash, and a man-to-man fight ensued. Even as that happened, onboard the warship, evacuees were served hot meals and cold water, and were nestled in air-conditioned bunks.
On board INS Mumbai, 105 air-conditioned bunks were opened up for the distressed women, elderly and children evacuated from Yemen.
“We ensured that every child got hot milk. We put soft music on the decks, and arranged comedy and music shows for the evacuees. We served them hot meals, steaming snacks, chilled drinks. We wanted them all to feel secure, comfortable,” Commanding Officer, Captain Rajesh Dhankhar, told The Hindu. The crew went out of its way to arrange for these things, even as it faced a constant threat of attacks.
On both vessels, announcements were made in multiple languages, including Arabic, French, Malayalam and English. The medical teams were on their toes, treating cases of severe dehydration, seasickness and trauma.
The tale of each trip to the ports of strife-torn Yemen — shared by captains and crew of the two naval vessels this week — stands testimony to the valour, sensitivity and determination of the Indian Navy.
“Outstanding job”
“The country is proud of you. The Navy is proud of you. You have done an outstanding job in the face of adversity and danger. You have evacuated 1,783 Indians and 1,291 foreign nationals from over 30 countries, and have given an outstanding example of ‘service before self’ ,” Admiral R.K. Dhowan, Chief of the Naval Staff, said, while appreciating his men at the Naval Dockyard here.
The rescue crew recalled stories of traumatised evacuees. “They told us how people were selling arms and ammunition on the streets like vegetables. Even eight or 10-year-old boys had weapons on them,” Captain Dhankhar said. Vijay Dhyani, who handled the sick bay area onboard INS Mumbai, said most of the people felt disoriented in the beginning. “We had to counsel them. When they returned to normal, they expressed tremendous gratitude. An old Indian woman told us how she would sleep peacefully that night as her country had come to her rescue and had served her with the best of food,” he said.
The toughest medical challenges were a Yemeni woman who was 38 weeks and four days pregnant, and a Yemeni man who had fractured his right leg badly. “The lady was dehydrated. We were all very stressed. We immediately administered her medicines, food. Then she became normal. Two hours after we disembarked her at Djibouti, she was delivered of a healthy baby boy, and her husband rushed back to give us the good news. All of us rejoiced,” H.C. Roul, who took care of the catering arrangement, said.
Language no barrier
The Yemeni man with a fractured leg sobbed for over two hours and held the hands of the crew who helped him. “We didn’t understand each other’s language. But we knew he felt gratitude towards us. He sobbed like a child for hours as we carried him to safety on a stretcher,” Vijay Dhyani said.
Captain Pradeep Singh, Commanding Officer of INS Tarkash, said he would never forget how Ambassadors of five countries awaited their arrival at Djibouti to thank them for saving the lives of their nationals.