CHENNAI: On September 22, 1914, in the backdrop of the First World War, the security of Chennai was breached through the sea when German cruise ship SMS Emden lurked into the dark waters of the Bay of Bengal and bombed key installations of the city, then called Madras. Such was the impact of the attack that it earned a sobriquet in Chennai lingo, where Emden is used to denote someone who is very shrewd. Emden, weighing more than 3,000 tonnes and armed with 22 guns, was commanded by Karl Friedrich Max von Muller.
It had launched an attack on commercials ships and in its quest, targeted the tankers of Burma Oil Company. Within minutes, two of them carrying kerosene, went up in flames. Emden then began attacking the buildings, including the Madras High Court and Port Trust. In the incident, five sailors died and 13 others were injured from a merchant ship which was at the harbour. One hundred and six years later, the Indian Navy, which is guarding the nation’s shore, has ensured the city sleeps peacefully as they patrol the sea day and night to ensure sea waters are secure.
As Indian Navy celebrates December 4 to mark the success of Operation Trident in the 1971 India-Pakistan War that was launched on Karachi Port, the Eastern and southern shores are gaining prominence, with the Indian Navy planning to expand its footprint in Chennai. Operation Trident is considered to be one of the most successful operations post World War II. Speaking about the success of the operations on the eve of the Navy Day, retired Commodore R S Vasan recollected the regular monsoon visits of the only Asian aircraft carrier, Vikrant, to Chennai for exercises.
The Gymkhana club made it a point to extend all its facilities then. Highlighting the importance of Chennai on the Coromandal coast, Vasan told Express that Chennai has a phenomenal importance, particularly on the security dimensions of the East Coast of India. “It is due to the increased activity of the LTTE, then, that the Navy set up seven naval detachments on the east coast which was all a part of Operation TASHA, launched on June 21, 1990, for the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard to have joint patrols to interdict all undesirable activities (including influx of refugees) in the Palk Bay area, in addition to law enforcement tasks.
The main aim for these naval detachments was to ensure there was no illegal infiltration along the entire east coast. “There are talks of rebasing a few vessels from Visakhapatnam and decongest the naval port and move it to Chennai for greater flexibility. The increased presence of extra regional players in the Bay of Bengal warrants more such bases which would allow for flexibility of operations, in the east coast,” he pointed. Interestingly, the Indian Navy recently commissioned the Indian Navy’s Air Squadron (INAS) 313, the fifth Dornier aircraft squadron.
With increasing need for surveillance over the Bay of Bengal, Palk Bay and adjoining regions, the need for more air and surface units is inescapable. This will give the dominance over the North Eastern part of the Indian Ocean that had trade routes, Indian Navy has said in a release. Vasan also pointed out that INS Rajali at Arakkonam and INS Parundu at Ramnad provide credible surveillance and response architecture. INS Rajali is bustling with phenomenal flying activity using the new P8i aircraft which have been successful in tracking all Chinese and other countries vessels and submarines including nuclear subs.
Indian Navy has played a key role in rescuing distressed fishermen from natural calamities that has struck the state including the tsunami. The challenge right now being faced by both Indian Navy and coast guard is to monitor the movement of the fishermen in Ramnad and work in rescuing fishermen when they are in distress. Another important task for the Navy was locating the dornier surveillance aircraft of the Coast Guard which went missing last year off Chennai recalls Vasan.
However, the major growing concern now is pollution at sea, there have been cases of collision and oil spillage off Chennai port for which we require strong plans and contingencies to oversee the activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone.