Seafearing Vibes 3

As far as anecdotes go, the valiant ship TIPPU SULTAN the First, she of the Battle of River Plate fame, really stood out. Another claim to fame could possibly be the recovery of four to five sonobuoys dropped by a US Maritime Patrol Aircraft during the Midlink Exercise of 1974, before they could sink as they were programmed to. This was arguably the first close encounter of the third kind the Pakistan Navy had with modern day technology.

An achievement which eclipsed both in terms of shock value was the historic victory earned by the ship’s tug-of-war team over the SSG(N) team of PNS IQBAL. A more unequal contest can hardly be imagined: in the red corner, a formidable demolition machine of barrel-chested commandos, who had never yet tasted defeat; and in the green corner, a ragtag bunch of hastily assembled forced volunteers with no particular claim to muscularity. When the first round was won with surprising ease, everyone present passed it off as beginner’s luck. With the second round too handily won, we were ourselves as shell-shocked as all the others watching the spectacle. Lieut Aslam Mirza, who was spearheading the ship’s effort, whenever reminded, to this day, simply shakes his head in disbelief.

 

Anyway, as far as an Ag Sub Lieutenant like myself, sweating for his watch-keeping competency certificate, was concerned, the need to juggle with the supernumerary duties entrusted to us, while retaining our prime focus was what really mattered. Earning the privilege of undertaking independent OOD duties in harbour was not much of a problem, as all Executive Branch departmental officers were much more keen than us for obvious reasons. Moreover, they were all quite enthusiastic in dumping extra OOD duties on the new harbour watch-keepers, as their own duties then became a rarity.

 

As far as supernumerary duties are concerned, I recall the case of a colleague who, while engaged in a harbour communication exercise, was given one minute’s notice to shift into drill rig to take charge of the ship’s landing platoon assembling in NSD Ground for a scheduled exercise. His sense of frustration got him so worked up that on turning back after making correctness report of the assembled platoon to the conducting officer, he actually ‘aasan baashed’ (stood-at-ease) the wrong division.

 

The ship’s Annual Inspection was certainly the most eventful. During the walk-round, the Inspecting Officer, namely COMPAK, wanted to know if all the Ops Room equipment was in good working order. Having verified that, the next question put to me was: “But defects do occur?” “All the time, Sir”, I replied, at which I received a swift and sharp kick on the shins from the XO standing right behind me. “But we keep repairing them at the same time”, I quickly added. “Ah”, said COMPAK , “that’s how it should be.” Through the corner of my eye, I could see a sign of relief on the XOs fiercely perspiring face in the form of an ever- widening grin.

 

With hardly a week to go before the Annual Inspection, two of the ship’s officers were abruptly relieved to participate in the Interservices hockey tournament, with me having to take over their duties also. The post-walkround harbour evolutions thus turned out to be quite a riot, to say the least. One moment I am in the Ops Room conducting tactical exercises, the next moment I am called up to the bridge to handle Gunnery drills, then a quick rig shift to lead the S/M boarding party on the fo’c’s’le, then back to the bridge for some chartwork, responding thereafter to the three or four reminders received in the meantime to show the Sports Account Register along with cash in hand to the Fleet Supply Officer and darting off to the NSD Ground soon after to take charge of the landing platoon.

 

While on a navigational attachment, I was once directed by the Navigating Officer, who also happened to be the Training Officer, to proceed to the fo’c’s’le to witness a nighttime replenishment-at-sea serial which was being conducted by the ship after a long time. Not surprisingly, nothing seemed to go right on deck, with confusion prevailing all round. Soon after the serial was over, I made my way to the Ops Room. On entering, I headed for the Chart Table but seeing a familiar figure stooped over the chart, I altered course to starboard to gaze at the radar PPI. A colleague of mine, who had also witnessed the confusion on the fo’c’s’le , came in the Ops Room a bare 30 seconds later, shaking his head and on approaching the stooped figure who he thought was me, said in apparent disgust, “All shit ,yaar, all shit!” As the hitherto motionless figure slowly turned his head, my colleague blanched, all signs of colour vanishing from his face, as realization sunk in that it was none other than COMPAK himself. As he retreated backward, one slow, heavy step at a time, his brain was presumably too stunned to register this gem of a retort flung at him: “You …….are the biggest shit yourself”.

 

An equally disastrous moment during a scheduled Captains’ Divisions furnished a similar humorous respite. It so happened that the Commanding Officer, having completed the inspection of the Fo’c’s’le Division on the starboard side emerged from behind the 4” gun all set to inspect the Communication Division, supposedly lined up on the port side, when he was taken aback by the sight that greeted him: two bewildered officers and one solitary confused sailor bunched together. He wisely chose to press on towards the next division, while the XO and the Divisional Officer exchanged hectic hand and mouth signals. Events leading to this sorry sight make interesting reading. The Communication department, being small enough as it is, it’s strength had further been depleted by personnel on duty, both from the visual as well as the radio side. The Divisional Officer, having arrived barely a few minutes prior to the Captain’s appearance, instantly made his presence felt by checking two of the sailors, who he felt were too sloppy to be paraded in the Captains’ Divisions and directing them to report to the gangway at the double. A third sailor, seemingly shaken by this sight, collapsed where he stood; three other sailors bent down to pick him up. Just as this party, guided by the departmental Chief Petty Officer, had disappeared in the confines of the nearby Petty Officer’s mess, that was the moment the Captain, leading the Inspection Team, chose to make his grand entrance. The three people present there were a red-faced Divisional Officer, an ashen-faced Assistant Divisional Officer and a colourless leading seaman.

 

Note: This was published in the March 2012 issue of the ‘Navy News’.

 

 

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