Role of Pakistan Navy in Tsunami relief operation

Navies are called upon to perform various roles such as seaward defence, protection of sea lines of communication, protection of offshore resources and Naval diplomacy. Navies are traditionally hailed to assist in natural calamities and distress at sea as well. Extent and severity in performing these roles locally and at remote areas depends upon the country concerned. Pakistan has always lived to its responsibility to assist its neighbors in distress. Pakistan role in UN peacekeeping and peace support missions needs no emphasis. Recently, Pakistan Navy added another plume to Pakistan by assisting Tsunami hit disaster areas. On 26 of Dec 04, Indian Ocean Earthquake with the magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter Scale, triggered a series of lethal Tsunamis that killed thousand of people, making it the deadliest Tsunami in recorded history. The Tsunami killed people over an area ranging from the immediate vicinity of the quake in Indonesia, Thailand and the north-western coast of Malaysia to thousands of kilometres away in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and even as far as Somalia, Kenya and Tanzania in Eastern Africa.

This tragic Asian Quake hit Maldives causing devastating effects and disrupting the normal life and civic facilities in the country. This catastrophe happened without any warning. While the international relief efforts were gradually mobilising, it was coincidental that Pakistan was one of the first countries to contribute to humanitarian assistance in a modest way. Pakistan Navy ship PNS TARIQ (a Types 21 Frigate) and PNS NASR (Logistic support ship) were on routine deployment in the region. On direction of Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Shahid Karimullah, Pakistan Navy ships immediately rendered their assistance to Government of Maldives for evacuation of stranded tourists/locals from islands. Pakistan Navy continued this humanitarian assistance through rendering diplomatic and material support by sending two more ships with sizeable relief efforts to Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

At Maldives Pakistan Navy Mission Commander in coordination with Maldives Authorities chalked out a comprehensive rescue plan code named "OPERATION MADAD". Accordingly, medical/first aid camp was established immediately at Male Jetty. To assist the Maldives government in assessing situation and the extent of damage, PN helicopters flew reconnaissance missions. Subsequent sorties were also flown to drop emergency food supplies to the stranded locals and foreigners. Ration and medicines were also provided from the ships stocks. While PNS NASR was under taking operation at Male PNS TARIQ was tasked to evacuate 367 tourists and locals stranded at Meemu Atoll i.e. 100 NMs South of Male. These tourists were from USA, UK, Germany, France, Holland, Belgium Japan, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Italy, Serbia, Hungary, Spain, Austria, Russia, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg and Lebanon. Recognising the immense Utility of Pakistan Navy units, the Government of Maldives requested for an extension in their stay, which was immediately agreed by Government of Pakistan and PN Ships continues their humanitarian assistance efforts for another three days. During this time, the Pakistan Navy Ships at Male other than providing medical assistance to injured personnel also provided food, rations and medicines from the ships.

The two ships PNS NASR and TARIQ continued their relief operation. The ‘Tsunami’, that wreaked havoc and affected millions of people across the Indian Ocean, a relief operation with Expeditionary Force comprising helicopters, a Field Hospital, a Marines Platoon and a Special Service Group (Navy) Platoon onboard Pakistan Navy ships MOAWIN and KHABIBAR were sailed to provide humanitarian assistance and relief to the effected people of Sri Lanka and Indonesia.

Designated ship embarked a 50-bedded hospital comprising 15 doctors, which included surgeons, pathologists, medial specialists, pediatricians, anesthetists and 80 paramedical staff. The Pakistan Navy Task Group upon reaching Sri Lanka handed over the relief goods to the authorities. On request of the Sri Lankan Authorities field hospital, 15 km away from GALLE, in a Tsunami-hit coastal town Ahangama was established where the situation was extremely critical. The field hospital was expeditiously established by Marines Platoon and commenced functioning by Jan 12, with the strenuous efforts of doctors and para-medical staff. The Naval hospital became popular amongst the locals who turned up in numbers for medical advice, first aid and surgeries. The utility of the Naval Field Hospital soon became apparent as Sri Lankan Government requested for extension and the hospital continued functioning till 16 Jan.

During this period, the hospital treated about 8500 patients and carried out 92 surgical operations.

On completion of relief operations in Sri Lanka, Pakistan Navy expeditionary force arrived ‘Lhoksemawe’, an eastern port of Indonesia, on Jan 20. Soon after arrival, over 500 tons of relief goods were dispatched to effected areas in Lhoksemawe, Sigli, North Aceh and Bireuen in coordination with local authorities. Initially, the possibility of erecting of field hospital was ruled out in Indonesia as recommended by Indonesian Government who were in favour of a ship borne hospital. This would not have served the purpose in view of the distance of the port from the affected area. Extensive aerial and ground reconnaissance was undertaken, up to SIGLI (a Tsunami-hit coastal town 150 Km towards west). Finally, the coastal town of Samalanga, at the estuary of the River Samalanga, was selected for establishment of field hospital. The Naval Hospital worked day and night and treated more than 9000 patients and undertook about 80 surgical operations. Pakistan Navy Marines were instrumental in establishing and functioning of Naval Field Hospital and distribution of relief goods at far-flung areas.

Elders and serious patients wee shifted to the hospitals and other secure, places.

Pakistan Navy Special Service Group undertook ‘Clearing up Operations ‘ in the ‘Samalanga’ river channel and cleared the channel up to 3.5 NM upstream rendering it navigable for country craft and fishing vessels. In the process they also salvaged 4 boats and 4 wrecks through underwater demolition. Pakistan Navy’s sailors restored work in basic health unit in ‘Samalanga’ and refurbished it for normal use in three days.

In addition, medicines were distributed from their own stock to the health unit. Pakistan Navy helicopters also actively participated in relief efforts in Indonesia and were extensively utilized to support the Pakistan Navy Field Hospital and delivery of relief goods.

The PN relief operation was appreciated both by the people and the officials in two countries. The goodwill generated would stand both PN and Pakistan in good stead.

There were strong humanitarian grounds for Pakistanís participation in the relief operations. Pakistan Navy proved its versatility and effectiveness in performing the assigned task and supporting our foreign policy objectives.