For Keshar Singh Chaudhary, senior most seaman sailor onboard INS Tarkash, the brief was short and clear: to help evacuate the maximum number of stranded refugees by protecting the ship from mercenaries. And in the strife-torn waters of Yemen, he stood guard to do just that. In a dangerous situation, he kept his presence of mind intact, and forced the mercenaries to put down their AK-47s, even as he protected the numerous women, children and other refugees from harm’s way.
It was the grit, courage and meticulous planning of these men in white, coupled with their immense selfless dedication that has earned global accolades for India for Operation Raahat. Indian Navy alone evacuated over 3,000 refugees, some of them critical medical patients, some women in advanced stages of labour, many children and the elderly.
This week, the Navy honoured its bravehearts by conferring medals on them. The men who had planned and executed humanitarian operations, rescue missions, wore a sense of pride on the investiture ceremony onboard INS Viraat.
Last year, when two merchant vessels ran into rough waters near the Mumbai coast, the bad weather conditions further worsened their situation. At a time when they thought their merchant vessels would sink, they gave a distress call to the Navy. The Navy, acting swiftly, sent out Sea King helicopters and ships. The lives of 33 sailors were saved by the Western Naval Command, just before the two merchant vessels, MV Jindal Kamakshi and MV Coastal Pride capsized.
“The conditions were tough. It was dark. The waters were choppy. There was rain and bad weather. These two small merchant vessels sent out distress calls. The rescue mission during both the times was very cumbersome. Our Sea King helicopters flew at night. Our divers had to dive into the choppy waters to save a few crew members. It was a matter of pride that we rescued all the 33 crew members before both the vessels capsized near the Mumbai coast,” Rear Admiral Biswajit Dasgupta told The Sunday Guardian.
Yuddh Seva medal, which is awarded for distinguished service of a high order during war or conflicts or hostilities, was conferred on Rear Admiral Biswajit Dasgupta, Captain Alok Ananda, Inder Singh Ojha, Satya Ranjan Mandal and Keshav Singh Chaudhary.
Rear Admiral Dasgupta played a pivotal role in planning and conducting various national and humanitarian projects. Operation Neer was conducted by the Indian Navy during the water crisis in Male in December 2014. He played an instrumental role in the Western Naval Command to supply 2,000 tonnes of fresh water over a 10-day period.
“The officer has significantly and actively contributed to the planning, conduct and successful accomplishment of mission of national and humanitarian importance, and the resultant positive image of India in the Indian Navy. For this exceptional and distinguished service in planning and execution of naval missions in the conflict zone of Yemen resulting in evacuation of Indian nationals from the war zone, response to the national water crisis in Maldives and towards co-ordination of all operational activities resulting in the saving of 33 lives at sea, Rear Admiral Biswajit Dasgupta is awarded the Yuddh Seva Medal,” the citation stated.
Rear Admiral Dasgupta recollected how the Naval command had to draw elaborate rules of engagement to avert any combat or damage. “It was a non-combatant evacuation. But it was a war-torn area. It was inherently risky. We didn’t want to hurt anyone, but we also didn’t want to suffer any damage. So, elaborate rules of engagement were drawn for it,” he recalled. The Navy had anticipated evacuating around 4,000 refugees, but it ended up rescuing over 3,000 refugees.
Operation Neer, in which the Indian Navy provided over 2,000 tonne-litres of water to the Maldivian city of Male, saved the city from “crashing” in December 2014. The Indian Navy’s tanker was the first one to reach the coast of Male, and the last to leave. The tanker had to anchor near the city, as the only port there was so small that it could not dock the tanker for a long time. Despite losing one of its two Reverse Osmosis plants, the tanker continued to stay at anchorage and provide water to Male. “A crisis was averted there because of our immediate response and prolonged presence,” an officer of the Indian Navy said.
This week, the Chief of Naval Staff conferred various medals on the Navy men. The Nao Sena Medal (gallantry) is awarded for individual acts of exceptional courage which have special significance to the Navy. It was awarded to Captain Rajesh Dhankhar, Commanding Officer of INS Mumbai; Captain Pradeep Singh, Commanding Officer of INS Tarkash, Cdr Sanjay Shukla, Captain of Seaking 42C aircraft, Cdr Ashok Kumar, Anil Kumar and Thongbam Prakash Singh.
The Nao Sena medal for devotion to duty was awarded to Rear Admiral Chandra Shekhar Rao, CMDE Suprobho K De, CMDE Mahesh Singh. The Vishisht Seva Medal, awarded for distinguished service of a high order, was conferred on Rear Admiral Amit Bose, Rear Admiral Rajesh Pendharkar, CMDE Pariyarath Suresh, CMDE Ravi Malhotra, CMDE Rakesh Kumar Dahiya, CMDE Jotin Raina, CMDE Harinder Pal Singh, Srg Capt Vivek Hande, Capt Panda Prachet Surendra Prasad, Capt Korak De, Capt D K Sharma, Cdr Vinod Pal Singh Rawat, Cdr Sanjeev Sahni, Surg Cdr Telkatwar Mohan Ramrao, Hanuman Dubey. The Jeevan Raksha Padak, awarded for rare acts of courage and self-sacrifice, was conferred on Yogesh Kumar.