Wednesday, August 26, 2009



Smuggling Nuclear Material through Andamans?  

Well! Here’s the long & the short of it all for you all to comprehend the entire disquieting episode…  

After the international suspense thriller in June over the movements of the North Korean cargo ship Kang Nam- I ended with the freighter beating a retreat and returning home, an equally intriguing case has emerged off the southern coast of India in the Bay of Bengal.
Another North Korean vessel, the Mu San, is currently in the custody of the Indian authorities after it dropped anchor without permission at Hut Bay, Little Andaman in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on August 6.  

If the case of Kang Nam I was curious, the Mu San has its own mysteries that are deepening by the day. When the ship first approached Andaman and Nicobar, the Indian Coast Guard sent an aircraft overhead to communicate, but the North Koreans refused to respond.
A Coast Guard ship then tailed it and found that the 39 North Korean sailors on board were unwilling to halt. On being approached, the Mu San attempted to escape and the Indian Coast Guard fired in the air. After an overwrought six-hour chase, the ship finally "obeyed" and was dragged to the city of Port Blair, the capital of the Island territory, for inspection.  


According to the captured sailors, the ship was carrying 3.3 lakhs gunny bags of sugar weighing 16,500 kilograms, bound for Iraq - a fact confirmed by searching its contents. One theory being bandied about is that the craft decided to dock in India for purely commercial reasons after learning that New Delhi had just announced zero import duties on sugar, a commodity that has fallen short this year due to a failed crop. Sugar as merchandise on the high seas is a seemingly inoffensive mission, except that the ship's crew frequently changed their versions when interrogated.  

The claim that they came to make a quick killing on eased tariffs did not dovetail with the other assertion of the ship's captain that they changed direction towards the Andaman Islands because of "mechanical failure". Moreover, the other stops the vessel made along the way were erratic and suspicious.  

 The Indian Coast Guard and the Andaman & Nicobar Police officials learned that M V Mu San docked unscheduled in Singapore without following the routine passport stamping procedure. Investigators also say that the same ship had in the past "made several voyages between North Korea and China without maintaining proper records".
As North Korea's nuclear program - which is now a matter of global concern and subject to United Nations sanctions - has been a beneficiary of Chinese technology and material transfer, India's military and civilian intelligence agencies rushed to Port Blair where the Mu San was being held. A team of two nuclear scientists from the Kalpakam Nuclear Power Station carried out a preliminary investigation of the ship and ruled out the existence of any chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear traces on board the vessel.  

Subsequently, as per the official communications, M V Mu San was escorted by the Indian Coast Guard from Port Blair to Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh on 22nd August, 2009. The cargo on board the suspect North Korean vessel, MV Mu San was off loaded there on Sunday and searched for any suspect material onboard. It has been heard that the central security agencies and nuclear scientists will conduct a thorough investigation to check if the ship is carrying any radioactive and nuclear material. Apart from that, the 39-member crew of the ship and its North Korean captain, Yun Jong Sun, would be questioned by the authorities at the port itself.

The vessel from Pyongyang has raised eyebrows for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are fears that it may contain traces of chemical or radio active material and secondly another point of contention is the fact that there is a North Korean government official onboard, which prompts questions on the credibility of the claim that the ship is a merchant vessel.  

Another critical question which needs to be answered is why were there conflicting claims made by the crew on their entry to different international ports, which did not corroborate with their passports. The MV Mu San is likely to be booked under the Indian Maritime Act for illegally entering in to the Indian waters. 

According to various news sources, the Union Home Ministry, Ministry of Defence and External Affairs Ministry are coordinating with each other to finalize procedure in this regard.   

Well, friends, we will have to wait until the vehemently unsettling mystery unfolds, finally, hopefully in a week’s time or so. But the most fundamental million dollar question that keeps haunting me, remains to be answered and that is-- 

What helped an outlandish foreign vessel succeed in intruding the supposedly well-guarded Andaman Sea and dropping anchor within miles of Hut Bay at the Little Andaman Island which is merely 120 kilometers away down South from the headquarters of the unified Andaman & Nicobar Command of the Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Air Force at Port Blair, the capital of the A & N Islands, and about the same distance North from the mighty Air Force station at Car Nicobar?

Is anyone listening??

Saturday, August 15, 2009



Happy 62nd Independence Day!!!

On this supremely auspicious & momentous day in every Indian’s life, I feel utterly proud to share with you one of the rarest pictures in the history of Indian Independence.

Following, my dear friends, is the historic picture showing none other than Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, the supreme Commander of the “Aazad Hind Fauz” i.e. the Indian National Army (INA) hoisting the then form of the now Indian Tricolor Flag at the Gymkhana ground (the present day Netaji Stadium) at Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands on the 30th, December, 1943.

It’s at this Gymkhana ground at Port Blair after hoisting the Tricolor for the very first time that Netaji declared the Islands the first Indian Territory to be freed from the shackles of British Imperialism, thus heralding the complete Indian Independence. 

For more details, CLICK HERE

Thursday, August 13, 2009




Carmel School Closed Till Monday 

Following the cases of two suspects of swine flu who were admitted in the GB Pant Hospital’s isolation ward, the management of Carmel Sr. Sec. School has decided to close the school upto Monday 17th August 2009. 

The decision was taken after it was known that one of the suspects was a 14 year girl studying in IX standard of Carmel School. The news had created a panic among the parents who have been watching the cases of swine flu over TV for the past few days. Parents flocked together to the Principal of the school requesting for closing the school at least till the results of the samples are received from National Institute of Virology, Pune.

Meanwhile the Directorate of Health Services has already issued the necessary guidelines to all the schools functioning in the islands. In an interview with the Door Darshan Kendra, Port Blair Dr. Avijit Roy, Nodal officer of H1N1 virus in the islands said, that there is no need to panic and people need not rush to purchase masks. If the people feel they are in an insecure zone they may use their handkerchief as mask. The nodal officer further informed that the samples have been sent to Pune and the results can be expected by tomorrow. He also said that the student suspect was responding well and chances are less that she may turn positive. 

Consequent on detection of about four cases of Swine Flu including a school student in these Islands, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) has also taken up the issue with Director of Health Services to ensure that arrangements such as separate isolation wards, ventilator, sufficient medicines protection mask, testing facility, checking of passenger at entry/exit points are made on war footing. The Director of Education has also been requested to declare holiday for schools for one week. But, so far all the schools are functioning normally without any plans to shut down temporarily. And there is an obvious disquiet among the parents of the school students as the reports of the school authorities sending some of the children to the hospital, who showed the symptoms of flu, goes around in the territory. (courtesy: Andaman Chronicle)  

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegrams carried the following report in issue dated - 12th August, 2009--- No Swine Flu case reported in isles: DHS

"No case of Swine Flu has been reported in A&N Islands till date and there is no need to panic, said the Director of Health Services, Dr. N Sadashivan while addressing the media persons in his chamber at a press conference here today. However, the DHS clarified that two suspected cases have been admitted in the Quarantine ward of the GB Pant complex as precautionary measures and the blood and swab samples have been sent to Pune for investigation, the result, for which is expected by tomorrow.

The DHS further said that every effort is being made to restrict the entry of the Swine Influenza virus (H1N1) in these islands. He said, doctors have been posted at the two entry points i.e at Airport and Wharf. A 13 bed isolation ward has already been set up at GB Pant Complex and services of a full time doctor have been made available.  

About one thousand (Tami flu) tablets are already available with the GB Pant hospital for treating the patients, if found, affected with (H1N1) virus, the DHS said, adding that a helpline number “03192 230622” is functioning at GB Pant Hospital for the benefit of the general public.
Dr. Sadasivan further informed that the Govt. has assured to send further about ten thousand (Tami flu) tablets for these islands territory soon. The DHS further advised that if anyone found swine flu symptoms which include fever, cough, sore throat, diarrhea, vomiting and uneasy breathing should immediately report to the GB Pant Hospital.
Responding to queries, the DHS said that the ICMR here has the testing kits for (H1N1) virus. The Directorate has sent a proposal to the Health Ministry for its approval to allow the ICMR to carry out tests here itself, he added."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

7.6 Intensity Earthquake Rocks Andaman & Nicobar




Oh, my God! What a horrifying last night we have had here in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands yet another time, when the Islanders were abruptly jolted by the massive earthquake at 1.55 a.m. IST! 

We rushed out of our houses and took shelter under the open sky and returned indoors only after the strong tremors had subsided, after about a minute’s run. 

It was only through the NDTV News channel on TV that we, the Islanders came to know that a Tsunami Warning was issued by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre for India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia amongst other countries of the region and that the massive earthquake measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, the epicenter of the same being about 169 miles North from Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. 

My knowledge thanks to the experience gathered from my comprehensive stints with the Disaster Preparedness and Risk Reduction initiatives in association with various NGOs over the past five years in the Islands that Earthquakes of this magnitude have the potential to generate a destructive local tsunami and sometimes a destructive regional tsunami along coasts located usually no more than a thousand kilometers from the earthquake’s epicenter, prompts even more caution and carefulness. 

The rest of the night was spent watching various News channels on TV, trying to get the latest updates on the incident and frequently trying to get a feel of the environment outdoors. As is usual during an earthquake of such a high intensity, the normal breeze had stopped flowing and there was an uncanny silence all around, almost like the one that precedes a Tsunami due to the receding sea. 

In fact, the Andaman Sea area witnesses frequent earthquakes caused by the meeting of the Indian plate with the Burmese micro plate along an area known as the Andaman trench. 

The Tsunami Warning was cancelled after about 4 a.m. IST as the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre reported that there was no noticeable Tsunami in the region. If a tsunami were to strike, it would reach the coastlines of India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia within one to three hours i.e. from 2.55 am IST to 4.25 am IST. 

This morning, things were back to normal in the Island territory with the children going to schools and the adults going to work. The bottom-line is that after having experienced the gargantuan earthquake of 9.2 magnitude, followed by the most destructive Tsunami of 24th December, 2004, the Islanders, here, have learnt not to panic and to live with it fearlessly, while trying their hardest possible to make peace with the traumatized nature by living with it and not at the expense of it.  

It’s not Man versus Nature; it’s Man with Nature that ought to be the notion in the interest of humanity. 

Related post – “Living by the Sea”

Monday, August 3, 2009



Tragedy Strikes the Onge Tribe 

An Onge man.

An Onge man with the traditional mud make-up on his face relaxing in his habitat  

Eight members of the Onge tribe in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, died and 15 more were in hospitalized but recovered after drinking from a container which washed ashore on their island reserve at Dugong Creek in the Little Andaman Island. The hapless tragedy struck the Onge on 10th December, last year (2008).
The Onge numbered just 100 before this tragedy. They were devastated following the British occupation of the Islands in the 19th Century. In 1900, they numbered around 670 people.
They now, face the prospect of losing around 10% of their entire surviving population in one go. Before this blow, their numbers had been stable for several decades, thanks to decades of relentless endeavors of the Ministry of Tribal Welfare, Government of India.
It is thought that the Onge believed that the plastic can contained alcohol. Although the Onge can hunt and fish as a natural talent, many have become dependent on rations from the Islands’ administration, and some have become dependent on alcohol, surreptitiously introduced to them by the poachers that infiltrate into their territory, off and on, and ironically, by a few insensitive and careless personnel of the administration who are, in fact, posted to guard and assist their community and territory.  

Consequently, four Onge women, who were widowed due to the tragedy of December last year, remarried in the month of February this year.

They married new Onge husbands in a joint tribal ceremony at Dugong Creek, Little Andaman and all the four of them have young babies.

Onge woman and child

An Onge woman with her child 

By contrast, the two other isolated tribes of the Islands, the Jarawa and the Sentinalese, are still self-sufficient. 

Photos & figures courtesy: Survival International, UK