NEW DELHI: The Indian Navy has issued updated guidelines for its ships and submarines at sea for ensuring the immediate helicopter evacuation of a crew member showing coronavirus symptoms to a nearest shore hospital and also designating compartments where such people can be quarantined. The guidelines come in the wake of a recent incident of scores of sailors on board a US Navy aircraft carrier being infected by the virus.

The guidelines focus on what needs to be done if a COVID-19 case is reported on board a ship or a submarine while at sea, officials said on the condition of anonymity. They said that a crew member showing signs of the virus or contracting it will be treated as an emergency case. “The priority will be to evacuate him by a helicopter to a hospital ashore, "an official said.

An Air Evacuation Pod (AEP) has been indigenously designed and developed by Naval Aircraft Yard (Kochi) under Southern Naval Command (SNC) for safe air evacuation of COVID patients from remote areas such as ships and islands in a fully sealed patient transfer capsule. The AEP is believed to remove the risk of cross infection to pilots and evacuation team, with no requirement of sanitation of aircraft post evacuation. 12 AEPs are planned for distribution across Southern, Western, Eastern and Andaman and Nicobar Naval commands.

If evacuation is not immediately possible, the patient will be isolated and those who came in close contact with him will also be quarantined at earmarked compartments on board the ship or submarine. “All platforms have been directed to identify such compartments for quarantine,” an official said.

The disinfection of affected compartments will also take place. While the navy had earlier issued guidelines on isolating crew members that show coronavirus symptoms, the fresh guidelines issued last week further add to the instructions in view of confined spaces on ships and submarines that make social distancing difficult. Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh in a video address to his personnel last week had said that although physical distancing on board warships and submarines is a “challenge”, these assets have to be kept free from the virus.

While no serving navy personnel has been infected by the virus, a navy veteran who was working on a contract at Navy Nagar in Mumbai has tested positive for it.

The updated guidelines also act as a “standard protocol” for the navy’s establishments as well, on the actions that need to be taken during contingencies. For example, if a ship at sea has a coronavirus case and the closest hospital is at Kochi, then the person can be evacuated by a chopper to that location. About 10 to 15 ships and submarines are at sea currently for different tasks such as patrolling the Indian Ocean. The guidelines also come in the wake of several sailors on board the aircraft carrier, USS Theodore Roosevelt, testing positive. The ship’s commanding officer, Captain Brett Crozier, was fired after he sent a letter on the urgency of the matter to his seniors.

The guidelines also give instructions on “skeletal manning” of ships and submarines while at harbour. Officials said that the navy has issued instructions to minimise the number of personnel for meeting the basic functional requirements of a ship at harbour, besides security of the assets. During a normal situation, there are several activities for a ship at harbour, such as maintenance, training, logistics and administration. However, ships and submarines will go with a complete crew while they go to sea.

Standard operating procedures before, during and after sailing has also been set. The navy has been screening crew members for signs of COVID-19, while ensuring that contact tracing be done for a person detected to be positive. Disinfection of the ship will also be carried out after it returns to its base port. At foreign ports, crew members can only disembark for essential tasks.