A total of 698 Indian nationals stranded in the Maldives due to the COVID-19 linked international travel restrictions were evacuated on Friday from the scenic island nation on an Indian Navy warship.
"Op #SamudraSetu. #INSJalashwa set sail from #Male, #Maldives tonight bringing back 698 of our citizens," the spokesperson of the Indian Navy tweeted.
"Bon Voyage! #INSJalashwa departs from Male port for Kochi with 698 Indian nationals on board," the Indian High Commission in Maldives tweeted.
India's high commissioner in the Maldives, Sunjay Sudhir earlier expressed his deep gratitude to the Indian Navy, the Government of Maldives and its agencies for extending complete cooperation for the success of the massive evacuation of Indian nationals.
An Indian Navy spokesman said there were a number of pregnant women and children among the evacuees who will travel to Kochi in Kerala.
The INS Jalashwa, the Navy's amphibious warship, reached Male on Thursday to undertake the massive repatriation mission named 'Operation Samudra Setu' (Sea Bridge).
Sudhir said a second Navy ship INS Magar will leave for Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu on Sunday with 200 Indians. He said the exercise will be repeated next week by the Indian Navy warships.
The first Naval ship from Male is expected to arrive at the Cochin Port on May 10, Port Trust officials in Kochi said.
The INS Jalashwa is part of the repatriation mission launched by the Indian Navy to bring Indian citizens home from foreign shores, the Indian Navy said in a statement.
Immigration procedures of the passengers were carried out in the Hulhumale' Ferry Terminal in Male City. "Fantastic job by the entire team of @VelanaAirport for the safe repatriation of Indian nationals!" the high commission tweeted.
The massive evacuation exercise is testimony to Maldives-India friendship, it said in another tweet.
Several Indians who are travelling by the warship lauded the evacuation plan launched by the government.
"It is a very great thing that the High Commission did for us and we did not have any issues till now. We got everything with proper guidelines, all the things done by the High Commission," Pradeep, who hails from Palakkad, said. He works in a resort in Male.
"Jamsheed from Kerala thanks Govt of India, Govt of Kerala & @indiannavy for this historic Operation to repatriate #Indian nationals from the #Maldives," the High Commission of India in Maldives tweeted.
The INS Jalashwa is properly equipped with relief materials, COVID-19 protection gear along with medical and administrative support staff, it noted.
Amidst the coronavirus pandemic, India is conducting its biggest ever repatriation exercise named Vande Bharat Mission to bring back stranded Indians from abroad, including from the US, the UAE and the UK.
The high commission in Male on its Facebook page said, MVR 600 or an equivalent amount of USD 40 will be charged as the Evacuation Services Charge from each person listed for repatriation by INS Jalashwa.
"This amount would be collected at the service fee collection counter after completion of the Immigration process at the Velana International Airport. Kindly carry exact change to avoid delay/ inconvenience," the post said.
Meanwhile, all arrangements as per government guidelines are in place at Cochin Port to facilitate the arrival of those who are evacuated from Maldives via the sea route, officials in Kochi said.
Before arrival at Cochin, on board the vessel, the Navy will get the self e-declaration data filled by all passengers and also identify the passengers symptomatic of COVID-19.
The symptomatic passengers will be disembarked first, followed by other passengers (district wise) in batches of 50 persons, the Port Trust said.
Separate zone has been earmarked for the symptomatic patients.
The passengers disembarked will undergo further statutory verifications for clearances inside the Samudrika Cruise Terminal where Port Health Organisation will verify the self declaration forms, the Port Trust said.
All passengers on arrival in India will be medically screened and would have to download and register on the Aarogya Setu app.
On Monday, the Indian government announced plans to begin a phased repatriation of its citizens stranded abroad from May 7.
On Thursday, two special flights from the UAE carrying a total of 363 Indian nationals, including nine infants, left for Kerala as India began its biggest ever repatriation exercise to bring back its citizens stranded abroad.