Navy deploys aircraft to scan ocean for survivors after Chinese vessel sinks

ByRahul Singh
May 19, 2023 11:35 AM IST

The aircraft dropped search and rescue kits in the area at the request of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy

The Indian Navy deployed its P-8I long-range maritime surveillance aircraft to the southern Indian Ocean to scan the remote waters for survivors after a Chinese fishing vessel with 39 people on board sank on Tuesday. The aircraft also dropped search and rescue (SAR) kits in the area at the request of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), Indian Navy officials aware of the matter said.

P-8I long-range maritime surveillance aircraft. (Sourced)
P-8I long-range maritime surveillance aircraft. (Sourced)

The Indian Navy also guided Chinese warships to the area where the vessel sank, the officials said.

The US-origin P-8I, inducted into the Indian Navy a decade ago, carried out sorties over the SAR zone on Wednesday and Thursday after the vessel, Lu Peng Yuan Yu 028, capsized in the stormy seas south of the Maldives, said one of the officials cited above, who asked not to be named.

The crew consisted of 17 people from China, 17 from Indonesia, and five from the Philippines. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is coordinating the operation. SAR teams on Thursday recovered two bodies, media reports said.

“P-8I aircraft have carried out multiple and extensive searches despite adverse weather and located multiple objects possibly belonging to the sunken vessel. As an immediate response, search, and rescue equipment was deployed at the scene by the Indian aircraft on the request of PLAN warships in the area,” said a second official, who also asked not to be named.

The P-8I aircraft flew from INS Rajali near Arakkonam in Tamil and carried out the search in an area almost 900 nautical miles away, the officials said. The navy has a fleet of 12 Boeing-made P-8I planes, split into two squadrons operating from Arakkonam and Goa.

The aircraft were bought from the US for more than $ 3 billion to sharpen the navy’s anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare capabilities. The P-8I is a military derivative of Boeing’s 737-800 commercial aircraft.

“In a display of India’s obligations as a credible and responsible partner for ensuring safety at sea, the Indian Navy units also coordinated SAR efforts with other units in the area and guided PLAN warships to the scene of [the] incident,” said the second official.

The navy remains deployed to provide all possible assistance to the ongoing SAR efforts, the officials added.

Maritime affairs expert Commodore Srikant Kesnur (retd) said notwithstanding any jousting that is perceived to exist between India and China in the Indo- Pacific region, this response by the Indian Navy clearly illustrates that when it comes to crisis situations at sea, the humanitarian aspect is foremost as befits a highly professional maritime force.

The development comes at a time when India and China are locked in a long drawn-out border row in eastern Ladakh, and PLAN is taking steps to increase its footprint in the Indian Ocean region.

It also comes weeks after Chinese surveillance vessel Xiang Yang Hong 10 and at least eight maritime militia ships, a front for PLAN, sailed towards the area where the inaugural Asean-India naval drill was held in the South China Sea. Two Indian warships and a P-8I aircraft participated in the drill.

India is keeping tabs on China’s moves in the South China Sea and taking steps to ensure that the Chinese navy does not muscle its way into the Indian Ocean where combat-ready Indian warships are carrying out round-the-clock surveillance for any unusual activity.

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