A sterling manifestation of Indo-Lankan solidarity

The Sri Lanka Navy and the Indian Navy have a long and steadfast friendship based on decades of mutual respect and goodwill. The people of Sri Lanka will remember the significant assistance rendered by the Indian Navy when our naval landing ship tanker SLNS Shakthi (L880) visited the Chennai Port to bring home a load of medical grade oxygen. During this time Sri Lanka Navy Commander Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne realizing the need for medical grade oxygen had made a personal request to the Chief of Naval Staff (Indian Navy) Admiral Karambir Singh to help us. Displaying a compassionate understanding of the challenges during this Covid pandemic, the Indian Admiral had obliged and accordingly instructed his staff to deploy the fleet tanker INS Shakti, to prepare for a voyage to Sri Lanka carrying a load of medical grade oxygen.

The Indian Navy fleet tanker INS Shakti (A-57) is a 27,500-ton colossal ship belonging to the Deepak class of the Indian Navy. On October 2010 amidst Vedic chants she was launched at an Italian shipyard in Genoa. It took 27 months to build this floating giant. She was commissioned on October 1, 2011. The induction of this fleet tanker enables the Indian Navy’s frigates, destroyers and other warships to sustain operations far away from shore bases. The ship’s crest shows two horses galloping. One is black and one is pink, depicting strength and energy. The predecessor to this giant ship is the Indian Navy tanker INS Deepak.

Fleet tanker INS Shakti has a sea endurance of 10,000 nautical miles. INS Shakti can refuel four ships at a time, with a discharging speed of 1,500 tons per hour. The ship has a length of 175 metres and beam of 25 metres, and boasts of a double hull. The ship’s crew is made of 200 personnel including 30 officers.

INS Shakti can reach a speed of 30 knots. Cargo operations are facilitated by a 30-ton deck crane. The vessel can carry 17,900 tons of cargo including 15,500 tons of liquid cargo. The heavy ship is fitted with AK-630 Close in Weapons System. This is a six barrelled 30mm rotary cannon. The gun is directed by MR-123 Fire Control Radar (FCR) and aided by television detection and tracking. This FCR can engage aerial targets at four kilometres and surface targets at five kilometres. For example, this electro-optical system can detect a MIG-21 target at an incoming distance of seven kilometres.

The system’s primary purpose is to defend the INS Shakti against anti-ship missiles and other precision-guided weapons. The guns can take on additional targets including enemy aircraft, small boats, floating mines and coastal targets. The guns have a rate of fire at 4000 to 5000 rounds per minute (rpm). This tanker has special elevators for its cargo and munitions loading operations. A seven-ton elevator operates on Deck 1. Another two-ton ammunition elevator operates from Deck 2 and Deck 4. An assortment of cargo can be shifted by these elevators.

INS Shakti can carry a variety of helicopters. In 2012 this Indian fleet tanker took part in a joint exercise with the US Navy, and she replenished the super carrier USS Carl Vinson. In 2013 she was part of a seven-ship fleet representing the Eastern Naval Command, at the annual TROPEX naval exercise. In 2015 she engaged in naval exercises with Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Thailand and Australia.

The ship has recreation for its officers and crew. There is a gymnasium to keep fit. A volleyball net is sprung across the helicopter deck and the crew indulges in volleyball. Table tennis is another option to unwind. In their mess (dining areas) sailors also play a game of chess. The central video room airs television for the crew to stay connected to current affairs. The naval branches represented onboard are navigation and direction, anti-submarine warfare, gunnery, communication, aviation, mechanical and electrical, logistics, bosun, dental and medical.

The crew’s nutrition is taken care of by seven navy chefs who dish out a variety of menus to keep up crew morale. The INS Shakti has the capacity to support helicopters including Sea King, Chetak and UH3H. The Sea King helicopter has a cruising speed of 129 mph and a maximum takeoff weight of 9700Kg. The Chetak multi-utility helicopter has a speed of 185Kmph and maximum takeoff weight of 2200Kg. The Indian Navy presently operates 23 Air Squadrons with the concept of Naval aviation taking root in early 1948.

The vessel can carry out fuelling operations from the Starboard, Portside and Astern (areas of a ship). Four rigs are located on the RAS (Replenishment At Sea) deck. One rig operates on the astern deck. INS Shakti can replenish three ships at the same time, which is interesting. This large 27,000 ton ship can give fresh water, AVCAT (aviation fuel), LSHSD (low sulphur high speed diesel) and DMW (distilled mineral water for boilers) to other naval ships.

The ship can produce 209 tons of water daily which is useful during humanitarian and disaster relief operations. The Indian Navy has invested in its women officers and they work with pride alongside their male colleagues. They have equal opportunity to advance in their naval careers. INS Shakti has three women officers working in logistics, medical and watch keeping (observer).

INS Shakti sailed under the command of Captain Matthew and arrived at the Colombo Port at 3.00 pm on Sunday. In keeping with naval protocol she was received by the Sri Lanka Navy and officials of the port. The medical grade oxygen was safely unloaded and transported to hospitals. The goodwill visit of this ship has given hope to the families of those afflicted with Covid and warded at hospitals.

Vice Admiral Ulugetenne paid a courtesy call at the port on Monday (August 23) and appreciated the support of the ship’s crew. The Navy Commander was duly received with naval decorum. Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay was also present. The voyage of fleet tanker INS Shakti from Vishakhapatnam to Colombo, during this Covid pandemic can be best summed up in the words of French theologian and Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer: “The purpose of human life is to serve, to show compassion and the will to help others.” The strong bonds between the Indian Navy and Sri Lankan Navy will grow in the decades to come.

– Daily News Sri Lanka

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