Navy assisting in tsunami relief

Following the series of tidal waves or tsunamis that devastated many Indian Ocean nations on Sunday, two ships from the Pakistani navy have extended their stay in the Maldives to participate in relief operations in disaster-hit areas.

"We arrived here last Saturday on a goodwill-cum-training visit, but as the following day the tragic earthquake disrupted normal life and civic facilities throughout the coastal line and also in this country, so we got involved in relief activities," Commodore Asif Sandila told IRIN from Male, the Maldives capital, on Wednesday.

About 68,000 people have been reported dead so far, the result of the devastating tsunamis resulting from Sunday's tremor below the ocean near the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The effects extended from Indonesia and Malaysia in the east across the Indian Ocean to Kenya.

Pakistani naval ships with two helicopters coordinated the rescue operation along with the emergency cell of the Maldives Coast Guards. The relief staff of one ship, PNS Tariq, rescued 367 tourists, including individuals from Pakistan, USA, UK, Germany, Holland and other European countries, from around 100 nautical miles south of Male.

All exercises and other operational commitments have ceased and the two ships are now concentrating on supporting the local authorities, Captain Aamir Naeem Baig, director of the public relations department of the Pakistani navy, told IRIN in the capital, Islamabad.

"There is too much devastation. Electricity and the entire communications network has broken down. People desperately need food, clean drinking water, medicines and doctors," Commodore Sandila said.

He added that they were on a goodwill visit and not on a "rescue mission". "So, we lack the resources and also the food and other relief stuffs, but even so we are trying to share as much as we can."

Meanwhile, Pakistan's largest private-run charity, the Edhi Foundation, has announced the dispatch of clothes and medical supplies to Sri Lanka and other countries.

The Pakistan Red Crescent Society (PRCS) is also sending the first consignment of relief items for those affected by the disaster in Sri Lanka. The package includes tents, blankets and food. "We are planning to send a team of doctors as well, for which we are consulting the High Commission of Sri Lanka here as to what sort of physicians they require there," Riaz Baig, media coordinator at PRCS, told IRIN in Islamabad.

People have been asked to donate whatever they can for those affected by the tsunamis.

Earlier, on Monday, the Pakistan government dispatched the first consignment of food, medicine and other relief goods to Sri Lanka. A foreign ministry spokesman told IRIN that the government has been finalising arrangements to send consignments to other affected countries in the region.

Meanwhile, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has already deployed UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) teams to Sri Lanka and the Maldives to work closely with national governments and relief workers in coordinating support from all over the world, and plans are under way to send additional teams to Indonesia and Thailand.