India intensifies pull-out of nationals from Yemen; naval ship in Aden

New Delhi: India on Tuesday intensified efforts to pull out its around 4,000 nationals from Yemen, deploying aircraft and at least five ships, even as the Saudi Arabia-led airstrikes against the Shia Houthi rebels entered the sixth day.

Indian Navy ship INS Sumitra docked at the Aden harbour on Tuesday night to evacuate the first batch of stranded Indians to Djibouti from where they will be flown back to India.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin tweeted: "INS Sumitra to depart Aden tonight for Djibouti with 1st batch of Indians evacuated from Yemen by sea. Will reach Djibouti tomorrow morning."

Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh on Tuesday flew to Djibouti to oversee the evacuation efforts.

India's move came as Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday night and assured full assistance in safe evacuation of Indians stranded in Yemen.

King Salman assured Modi of his "full attention to the safety of Indians in Yemen and all possible assistance for their early and safe evacuation".

The Saudi monarch called up Modi at 9.30 p.m. The prime minister shared his "deep concern about the safety and welfare of approximately 4,000 Indians in Yemen".

Modi also briefed King Salman on India's evacuation plan and requested him for support and cooperation in it.

The Saudi monarch "recalled the strong and close relations between India and Saudi Arabia and assured the prime minister of his full attention to the safety of Indians".

Modi expressed his gratitude "and conveyed his best wishes to His Majesty for a quick resolution of the challenges in the region and early restoration of peace and stability under his leadership. The prime minister also reaffirmed his commitment to further strengthening India's close relations with Saudi Arabia," said a statement.

The navy has pressed into service two more ships -- INS Mumbai and INS Tarkash.

In addition, two passenger liners with a total capacity of 1,100 passengers are moving towards Yemen and would reach there in four-five days.

On Monday, India evacuated 400 Indians from Aden through the sea route by a local craft which took them to Djibouti.

In Djibouti, India has stationed five diplomats, including three senior officials of the external affairs ministry, to assist in the efforts.

The Indian Air Force has deployed two C 17 Globemaster aircraft to ferry those in Djibouti to India.

Air India has stationed two aircraft in Muscat.

India is also in touch with regional leaders and will seek their assistance in this difficult situation, the ministry spokesperson said.

Vice Chief of Indian Navy Vice Admiral P. Murugesan said on Tuesday that the navy will assist evacuation of Indians from Yemen and the two warships sent to Djibouti Port will provide anti-piracy assistance besides carrying Indian nationals back.

Talking to reporters after taking charge as the vice chief of Indian Navy, Vice Admiral Murugesan said several agencies are participating in the operations.

"Evacuation is going to be through sea and air route, several agencies like Indian Navy, Indian Air Force (IAF) and Air India are going to participate," he said.

Many countries in the region, including Pakistan and China, have rushed their officials and aircraft and ships to evacuate their respective nationals as the fighting intensified.

The Saudi Arabia-led aerial bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen continued for the sixth day on Tuesday.

The air strikes are aimed at forcing Houthi rebels to hand power back to President Abed Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

At least 40 people were killed on Monday and 200 others wounded in an air strike at al-Mazraq camp.

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