Mumbai: Over 3,000 physically and mentally traumatised men, women and children were rescued from the crossfire of war in Yemen by brave men aboard three Indian Naval ships. Two of those three ships, part of the spectacular 'Operation Rahat', are back.
The men in-charge of INS Mumbai and INS Tarkash told NDTV how they operated in war-like conditions to evacuate civilians.
On board the ship he commands, Captain Rajesh Dhankar told NDTV, "The bombing got closer to Aden harbour and firing was going on. So, a decision was taken that the ship will not go alongside."
To avoid any chance of getting fired at, INS Mumbai waited outside Aden's harbor, while a smaller craft, arranged by Indian diplomats, got 441 people to safety on the ship's decks. Standard operating procedure meant the destroyer had to keep in mind any potential attack - like the suicide attack on USS Cole in Aden in 2000 that killed 17 sailors and injured 39 in one of the deadliest attacks on an American Naval vessel.
INS Mumbai's Executive Officer, Commander Anurag Shrivastva, told NDTV, "All the major weapons systems and small arms to take care of the immediate threat, which we call force protection measures, were in place so as to avoid any boat not of evacuees coming close. We had boats coming closer, which were not part of evacuees, which we identified at a distance. They were not allowed to come closer."
That was the ship's first round of evacuation. In another sortie, the ship brought out 474 people from the rebel held port of Al Hodeidah. To put the numbers into perspective, the ship - not designed to ferry civilians - has a crew of 330.
INS Tarkash, the Navy's third ship in Operation Rahat, faced added dangers while rescuing over 500 people in two rounds from Aden and Al Hodeidah. Commanding Officer, Captain Pradeep Singh said, "Aden was a different ball game altogether. There was a total breakdown of law and order and discipline. There was no control on the jetty."
His Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, Lieutenant Commander Ravi Prakash told NDTV of near riot-like situations, with people desperate to get on board. "As time passed, the situation became worse, and at times we had to let go of the boats, cast them off or even cut their ropes," he said. But the ever-present danger did not stop the two ships bringing out nearly 1,500 people.
The man at the helm, Admiral RK Dhowan, talked about how proud he was of his men.
"Our sailors and officers did an outstanding job in going beyond the call of their duty and displaying what we always learnt, service before self. As instructed, our ships remained deployed till the last Indian was evacuated safely back home," the Chief of Naval Staff said.