New additions include recce aircraft and rescue helicopter

The Indian Coast Guard Service (ICGS) is all set to base at least two maritime reconnaissance aircraft and a helicopter in Thiruvananthapuram.

The Ockhi cyclone disaster appeared to have given a fillip to the move to acquire a part of the old domestic terminal for ICG’s air operations. Officials said Station Commander, ICG-Vizhinjam, V.K. Varghese had received information that the Centre and State authorities had sanctioned the proposal.

They said the new capability would enhance the Coast Guard’s operational readiness in Peninsular India. The ICG, Vizhinjam, currently operated two fast interceptor boats, one of which (ICGS-47) was instrumental in medically evacuating a fatally injured Chinese sailor from a foreign cargo vessel off the coast of Vizhinjam on January 25.

Officials said the Indian Search and Rescue Area (INSAR) extended up to 200 nautical miles, including waters bordering the exclusive economic zone of the Island of Mauritius. It encompasses some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Over the years, distress calls from foreign merchant vessels, traditional seafaring fishers and foreign navies have beset the ICGS. They included requests for medical evacuation and appeals to track and detain ships involved in mid-sea collisions.

ICGS stations on the coast often received distress calls through satellite phone directly from vessels and others via the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre.

Last year, the ICG-Vizhinjam located, pursued and detained two foreign vessels that were suspected to have dashed against Indian fishing boats. There have also been instances where ICGS worked in tandem with the Navy to transfer seriously unwell sailors and combatants from foreign Naval vessels to hospitals on the mainland. Those operations have been mostly secretive.

ICG officials said the new air assets to be stationed in Thiruvananthapuram would vastly enhance their command’s surveillance, search, rescue, and contraband, arms and drug interdiction operations. They said the aircraft would increase station’s awareness of its area of operation. The planes were kitted out with the latest maritime surveillance equipment that enabled them to operate effectively in varied weather and light conditions.