Given the restricted space and high number of personnel on warships and in submarines, physical distancing is a challenge

NEW DELHI: Coronavirus cases on board Indian Navy ships and submarines on missions will be treated as an emergency and patients will be evacuated immediately, while in extreme cases the mission can be aborted for the safety of the personnel.

“Instructions have been given to all ships and submarines that a case of coronavirus on board be treated as an emergency,” said a Navy officer who did not wish to be named. The first response will be to evacuate the person by a helicopter. If that is not possible, then personnel would disembark on the first available opportunity or if required divert the ship to return to the closest base, he added. The decision has been taken for the safety of the personnel.

Given the restricted space and high number of personnel on warships and in submarines, physical distancing is a challenge. Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh on Friday said, “We have to make sure that our operational assets, especially ships and submarines, remain free from the virus. Physical distancing remains a challenge for any warship or submarine. This requires us to apply ourselves, to make sure that our personnel and our readiness is not compromised.”

Due to operational requirements, ships are continuing with Mission Based Deployments, Offshore Security & Coastal Security Patrols which includes the Operation Sankalp, anti-piracy deployments, Indian Ocean Region and Bay of Bengal deployments. “There are between 10 to 15 warships on sail at present with around 3500 men onboard and this is in addition to the coastal surveillance deployments on the east and west coasts,” said the officer.

Six additional warships with their personnel are loaded with HADR bricks and kept on standby for assistance at Vishakhapatam, Kochi and Mumbai to respond to any requests from littoral neighbouring countries like Maldives, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

As a precaution, while the number of ships sailing has come down, the number of air sorties for surveillance have been increased to reduce exposure. Also, for harbour requirements to keep machinery/equipment in running condition, minimum strength is maintained with one set of crew manning at one time and not being allowed to mix with the other set.

The Indian Navy is mandated to not only secure the country’s 7516 km length of coastline but also an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of about 2.37 million km2.

The Navies of the United States and France have been dealing with coronavirus outbreaks on board. In the case of the US aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, the number of coronavirus cases has reached 550. Its commanding officer Capt. Brett Crozier was removed from command as the letter which he wrote for evacuation of the carrier’s crew was leaked. Three more US carriers and French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle have also reported coronavirus cases.