Sea conquering navy women officers get gallantry awards

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New Delhi : The six Indian Navy women officers who circumnavigated the globe earlier this year were on Tuesday awarded Nao Sena medals - a gallantry award for courage and devotion to duty in the naval force.

Lieutenant Commanders Vartika Joshi, who led the team, and Prathibha Jamwal, and Lieutenants Swathi Patarpalli, Aishwarya Boddapati, Vijaya Devi and Payal Gupta spent over eight months at sea, sailing around the world in six legs on the Indian Naval Sailing Vehicle (INSV) Tarini.

Lt Commander Joshi volunteered for the expedition, Navika Sagar Parikrama, during which the crew spent 194 days at sea and nearly 8 months away from home port.

It was the maiden attempt by an all women naval officers crew to sail around the globe in a yacht, covering a distance of nearly 22,300 nautical miles (41,255 kmm).

During the Sep 10, 2017-May 18, 2018 expedition that began at Goa, the officers crossed the equator twice, sailed across four continents and three oceans, and passed south of the three Great Capes -- Leeuwin, Horn and Good Hope in their eight-month journey.

The crew made stops in Fremantle (Australia), Lyttleton (New Zealand), Port Stanley (Falkland Islands), Cape Town (South Africa) and Mauritius.

The entire voyage was completed using sails, regularly negotiating 10-meter waves and over 100 kmph winds with the temperatures varying between four and 40 degrees Celsius as the vessel traversed through different parts of the world, Joshi's award citation reads.

"Successful completion of circumnavigation voyage over 194 days at sea is a testimony of the raw courage, endurance and professionalism displayed by the officer and is in keeping with the finest traditions of the Navy."

Captain P. Rajkumar of the Navy was given the Shaurya Chakra who rescued four survivors from the rough seas when a very severe cyclonic storm Ockhi struck the southern coast of India last year.

On December 1, the officer was captaining naval helicopter Sea King flying sorties all day on search and rescue operations braving the fury of nature and undertaking rescue missions.

A fisherman, adrift at sea, was reported to have been spotted as the crew thought the day's work was over.

"The aircraft had flown continuously with two hot re-fuelling and there was considerable risk involved in undertaking a fresh mission. However, with no regard to his safety, Rajkumar took a tough call and decided to fly the life threatening mission on the stormy night of cyclone to save the solitary survivor in the raging sea," reads his citation.

There were no night vision devices available immediately.

Flying on a pitch dark night, the Captain descended his helicopter to as low as 200 feet to search for the survivor. About 25 minutes into the search, the survivor was sighted clutching onto a capsized boat.

The officer brought the enormous aircraft into a hover at 25 feet over the raging sea and dispatched the diver, maintaining an extremely difficult manual hover for almost 30 minutes.

"Anything could have gone wrong at this stage, as both the men and machinery were operating at their extreme limits."

But the daring act of the officer enabled saving a human life in extreme conditions.