My stay on board PNS TIPPU SULTAN as it’s Executive Officer was a fairly tumultuous one, due, in no small part, to the fact that the ship was serving at the time as the flagship of the Commander 25th Destroyer Squadron (COMDESRON-25). Anyway, COMDESRON-25, who was also the Commanding Officer at the time, once decided to invite all the specialists at PNS SHIFA to lunch on board to familiarise them with a warship’s environment. My wife, though serving at PNS SHIFA, was not a specialist at the time, but was invited all the same by virtue of being a unit officer’s wife I suppose.
On the fateful day, after having ensured that all the guests had been received and escorted to the reception area, I made my way towards where my wife was. Seeing me approach, a medical officer of one of the ships of the squadron, who was standing in the same group, stepped forward to introduce her to me as a medical officer from PNS SHIFA. “How do you do, ma’am?” I said, as non-chalant as you please, and put out my hand. As we shook hands rather casually, the look on the doctor’s face was priceless.
After spending about 15 months at the Pakistan Naval Academy PNS RAHBAR, I was selected for the acquisition of PNS SHAMSHER, a Leander class ex-RN frigate, from UK as its Executive Officer-designate. On being so nominated, I chanced to come across a certain officer of the Gunnery persuasion, who let out a loud guffaw on learning who the other nominees were. “Imagine a situation”, he said to me by way of explanation as I looked on puzzled, “your ship is in the middle of the ocean, you don’t know where you are, and you don’t know who to call”. This was an obvious dig at the Navigating Officer and Signal Communication Officer nominees, both of whom happened to be his term-mates.
Time spent at Portsmouth during the acquisition process was an exceedingly busy one, as the entire process, inclusive of preparation, takeover, work-up and re-storing had to be completed within two and a half months. The task was made considerably more complex due to the less-than-helpful attitude of the skeleton RN crew that had remained behind. The ship’s Marine Engineering Officer and some key members of his department, who had been co-opted by the Pakistan Navy to assist till the ship’s departure, were a big help though.
The out-going commanding officer of HMS DIOMEDE and soon-to-be PNS SHAMSHER was the newly-promoted Captain Rodney Hogg. While seeing him off, the wardroom officers had reportedly presented him with a replica of a pig, all in good fun, though such an act would be inconceivable in a PN ship, from more than one perspective. Anyway, the aforesaid Capt Hogg was again in the spotlight during the fag end of a joint reception held on board to toast the ship’s handover, when he was seen scurrying away from the scene with an RN sailor in tow, carrying a large lifebuoy of the ship. A booming voice shouting “Hey, Captain, I saw that! “ stopped him dead in his tracks and attracted everyone’s mirth. The voice belonged to a civilian store inspection officer of the Royal Navy, whose expertise was being utilised by us for the restocking process prior departure. The Captain, red-faced, moved on rather self-consciously towards and beyond the gangway.
On reaching Pakistan, the ship began the assimilation process culminating in the annual fleet exercise. Shortly thereafter, the ship was nominated to participate in the “Family Day’ celebration, during which naval families are taken to sea for a day trip. The ship’s Petty Officer Chef and Leading Topass requested that they be landed prior sailing as they had completed preparations for their department and had some private business to attend to. I naturally declined as the grounds that they cited were pretty flimsy. “In that case, sir”, they jointly declared, “we request permission to take our families along.” “Of course you can”, I retorted, “all crew members are allowed to do so”. “But sir, between the two of them”, the Regulating Petty Officer interjected, “they have two dozen children”. They were landed.
After my Executive Officer tenure at PNS SHAMSHER, I had an eventful tour of duty as the Deputy Director PN Tactical School and the Fleet Operations Officer. Having been cleared for command, I was posted to PNS KHAIBAR, an ex-USN Brooke class destroyer. On one occasion, the ship was mobilized along with all other available ships for clearing the range prior to and during a major live missile firing exercise. While most vessels in the vicinity complied with our order to stay away from the firing safety arcs, one fishing vessel didn’t seem to comprehend and kept drifting along. In desperation, I turned to a junior officer who could converse in Sindhi and thus perhaps stood a better chance of being understood. “Just to be sure”, I advised him, “confirm in advance that they can hear you by asking them to show hands”. The next thing I know all the vessel’s crew members had their hands in the air classic western style. What had been announced to the crew on the ship’s external broadcast system in a mixture of Urdu and English went something like this: “If you can hear me, ‘hands up’ ho jao”.
After nearly a year in command, the ship had to be destored and readied for handing it back to the USN, in line with Pressler Amendment. I was however fortunate in being selected as the Commanding Officer designate for the third ex-RN Type 21 frigate being acquired from the UK, also propitiously commissioned as PNS KHAIBAR. Two years later, I ended up at Naval Headquarters as the Director Naval Warfare and Operational Plans. Having served in the same Directorate previously, I had come to recognise that plans and policies apart, anything that any other directorate was not clear about and wanted an opinion on or went ‘unowned’ found it’s way to ‘Plans’. But I must confess that even I was taken by surprise when a letter from the Capital Development Authority pertaining to horticulture ended up on the desk of the Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Plans). To be fair, it had been appropriately addressed to ACNS (Plants).
Note: This was published in the Sep/Oct 2012 issue of the ‘Navy News’.