Indian flood relief ship leaves Galle, docs stay
by Shamindra Ferdinando in Galle
INS Sharda left Galle port in the evening after completing its part in the relief operation. Indian Defence Advisor Captain M. Gopinath said they decided to withdraw the ship-based disaster management group as there was no requirement for its continued presence. Addressing a briefing on board the vessel, about a hour before it left for the naval base at Kochi, Gopinath said Indian army medical teams will continue to assist the people living in flood-hit areas. Army medical teams comprise 224 officers and men and a small group of journalists visiting the south had the opportunity to meet with one such team deployed at Deniyaya, ravaged by raging flood waters.
Earlier in the day, Indian High Commissioner Nirupam Sen said the entire contingent will quit the flood-hit areas in Sri Lanka as soon as it completed its assignment here. "We are ready to do whatever possible to assist Sri Lanka," Sen said.
The ships commanding officer, Commander Shyam Kumar at the end of a short briefing on board the vessel as it prepared to leave Galle, said Indias swift response at the hour of Sri Lankas need underscored the need to further strengthen the Indo-Lanka relationship. "Our teams operated in very difficult terrain, taking serious risks in carrying out rescue operations, he said. "We completed our job by Sunday evening. Now all teams have been recalled and we are ready to leave. Ministers Karu Jayasuriya and Tilak Marapana were among the ministers who came on board. We are glad they appreciated what we did."
Kumar, a naval aviator who had flown from aircraft carriers, said INS Sharda is similar to the OPV acquired by the Sri Lankan Navy from India.
Colonel M.S. Sardhu (cardiologist), Colonel Venkatachalam, Captain Sudha Mohan and Captain D. Sirinivas, members of the medical team operating from a government school at Deniyaya explained their role since their deployment.
Colonel Sardhu said that swift deployment boosted the morale of the people of Sri Lanka. "We were deployed at short notice," he said, adding that they were happy to be deployed on this particular mission.
The Indians said there had been many cases of dysentery, diarrhoea, high fever and bowel-related diseases. Responding to questions, they said the crisis was smaller than what they anticipated. "We have handled worse situations," Sardhu said, adding that they were capable of handling natural disasters, but the present deployment was their first major overseas assignment.
The entire Indian deployment was carried out without any exchange of documents. While INS Sharda moved to Galle with the disaster management team and relief material, army medical units were flown in giant IL 76 transport aircraft. The army units comprised 22 doctors including two specialists, 202 medical assistants and 16 truck loads of medical supplies. "It was a huge operation," Captain Gopinath said, adding that they swung into action immediately after Sri Lanka sought immediate assistance on May 18. The request was made around noon. "INS Sharda left about ten hours later," he said, adding that Indian army medical teams were flown in on Wednesday (21) on a subsequent request. On Sri Lankas request 2500 blankets were also brought.
Colonel Venkatachalam said their teams were ready to operate in any difficult terrain. "We are fully equipped to engage in major medical relief operations," he said, adding that they brought their own ambulances.
Captain Gopinath said thousands were treated by Indian personnel.
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