Four ships of the Indian Navy sailed on Wednesday morning to evacuate 1,400 tourists, including a number of foreign nationals, from Havelock Island and Neil Island in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands following a storm alert issued by the district administration.
The sudden evacuation mission was initiated, following the declaration of an L1 alert by the administration, and at the request of Andaman and Nicobar Disaster Management authorities, who speculate that a "cyclonic storm" might strike Havelock Island and Neil Island.
"There is a deep depression (in the sea) about 310km (southwest) from Port Blair. That is why the Navy was contacted as we don't want to take any chances," an official from the Directorate of Disaster Management, A&N administration, told IANS.
The official said that because of heavy rains and winds, tourists are facing difficulties in reaching the jetty to board ships.
"We can't say as of now that the depression will turn into a cyclone," the official said.
They expect the evacuation to be completed by the evening, he said.
Navy spokesperson Captain DK Sharma said the four deployed ships were in the area and that there was a bad sea state.
He said the four ships – INS Bitra, Bangaram, Kumbhir and LCU 38 – departed from Port Blair at around 3.15am on Wednesday morning.
Sharma said that the four Navy ships will accompany the ferry boats transporting tourists to Port Blair, and that their highest consideration is the safety of the tourists.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been receiving heavy rainfall since Sunday.
Close to 100cm of rainfall were recorded on Tuesday in Port Blair.
According to a local journalist, Met Department officials said that, in the next 24 hours, the depression might develop into a cyclonic storm.
Wind speeds were observed to be around 40-50 kmph and ranging upto 60 kmph.
A senior Port Blair-based journalist said that in these circumstances only navy boats can be used.
He added that no aerial evacuation was possible, as the route between Havelock Island and Neil Island can only be covered in a helicopter, and in the high windspeeds currently being experienced, helicopters could not be used.
According to the National Disaster Management Authority guidelines, an L1 level alert can be managed at the district level. However, the state and centre will remain in readiness to provide assistance if needed.
(With IANS inputs)