The morning of the fleet’s departure for hostile waters, the wife of the Naval Chief accompanied by the wife of the C-in-C of the Western Naval Command had met the wives of the officers and sailors—ship-by-ship—at the sprawling Western Naval Command Mess. There, they’d patiently answered the questions of the wives; admitting that they didn’t know how long their men would be at sea. They’d also warned that the fleet was sailing to battle, so causalities were to be expected. However, they reassured them that the Navy would take care of its own. A helpline was announced for counseling wives who were worried.
The sinking of INS Rajput and the damage of INS Godavari, resulting in the deaths of 220 brave warriors sent shockwaves throughout Navy Nagar. A somber-faced Defense Minister read out the names of the dead men on TV. Within an hour of the loss, the CNS and his wife flew to Mumbai in a special aircraft, and then by helicopter to INS Shikra, the naval air station in Colaba. The C-in-C and his wife, and the CNS and his wife, split into four and spent the next eight hours—all the way to 0700 going house-to-house consoling each family, especially for the fact that for many, they would not have the privilege of seeing the bodies of their loved ones, since all those who had died were at sea. They offered both solace and immediate money, as well as briefing them about the Navy’s special and enhanced compensation package.
At 0700, the two exhausted senior officers went to the Naval War Room deep inside INS Angre (headquarters of the WNC) and reviewed the status of the fleet. They conferred with the Fleet Commander, who told them that there was great despondency across the fleet in letting the three Pakistani ships sail away damaged, but not sunk.
Reacting to this, the CNS decided to immediately fly out to the fleet flagship INS Viraat—he tried to nap on board the noisy helicopter. As soon as he arrived, he went straight into the wardroom to address the captains of each of the ships to answer the queries. After that, through encrypted radio, he also spoke to each of the ships of the fleet who’s crew were addressed by simultaneous PA systems. He explained the rationale of the navy’s strategy; complimented them on their forbearance; explained the package offered to the families of their dead compatriots; and warned them, that further losses could be expected, before Pakistan’s economy was starved into submission.
The CNS had answered all questions clearly, except one. The captain of INS Veer, a missile corvette, and thus a relatively junior officer, had looked at the shipstobesunk.in list, and asked: “We sank a Saudi-flagged ship, and seemed to have got away. However, one of the ships on that list, MV Aberdeen is a UK-flagged ship. If it sails, and crosses the 12-mile limit, will we also sink it? If so, will we be expected to fight the Royal Navy, in return, especially if their two frigates in the Gulf come out to escort it?”
The other officers had laughed. The Royal Navy’s surface fleet was so few and far deployed that it was not a threat to the Western fleet. But the CNS knew that right now n the Indian Ocean was also a nuclear attack submarine, HMS Vengeance, which was quite likely to sink INS Viraat, and get away with it, if ordered to by London.
After a short rest, and a light lunch, the CNS returned to Kandla, where a flight took him to Delhi, where he’d asked for an urgent meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security to discuss what do if the British-flagged ship sailed out of Karachi. There was also one Italian ship and six Chinese ships. With the Saudis, India had got lucky: what about these ships and their crew?
To be continued …