New Delhi: Nearly 800 Indians were on Saturday evacuated from strife-torn Yemen where the situation has deteriorated significantly due to an escalation in fighting between two warring groups that have left the nation in tatters.
With Saturday's evacuation, India has so far taken out 1,800 of its citizens from the country where a Saudi-led coalition is carrying out air strikes against Shia Muslim fighters, called Houthis, who have overrun most of the tiny nation and forced West-backed president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee.
Minister of state for external affairs VK Singh, who was overseeing the massive Indian evacuation operation from Djibouti, had also gone to Sanaa, the largest Yemeni city from where Air India rescued Indians after getting permission to land.
Singh came back to Djibouti on Saturday.
Meanwhile, navy ship INS Mumbai sent to evacuate Indians from Aden could not dock at the city port due to heavy shelling and small boats were used to ferry people to the ship.
"There is heavy shelling in Aden. The ship is anchored 5-6 kilometres off the coast. Indian nationals are being taken by boat to board the ship there," external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said.
Indian authorities had hired small crafts to move 30-35 Indians at a time from the port to INS Mumbai, the navy said.
"Absolute tough environment at Aden... Evacuation of stranded Indians were carried out in almost war-like conditions," a navy official said.
Official sources said the evacuation operation was going on notwithstanding the deteriorating situation across Yemen.
"We hope to complete the evacuation operation in the next few days," an official said.
The sources said though security situation was becoming more precarious in Sanaa due to increasing hold of al Qaeda, India has been given slots to carry out air sorties to take out its citizens from the city.
"Maximum slots to carry out air sorties have been given to India. We were given two slots yesterday (Friday) and two slots today (Saturday). We hope to continue the evacuation from Saana."
Officials sought to allay fears of kidnapping of Indians in Yemen, asserting that the situation was not like that in Iraq.
The sources said Indian Navy ship Tarkash and two other commercial ships are also available for evacuation of Indians from port cities including from Al-Hudaydah.
They said India had rescued two Nepalese and three nationals each of Bangladeshi and Pakistan also from Al-Hudaydah city two days back.
External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said over 300 Indians have been brought back from Sanaa and reached Djibouti en route to India.
He also tweeted that about 800 Indians were evacuated on Saturday.
The sources said situation in Sanna was serious as militants have stepped up their offensive and particularly due to movement of heavy artilleries and missiles during nights.
"The security situation is deteriorating every day," the sources said.
A no-fly zone enforced in Yemeni airspace by international coalition has made it difficult to evacuate Indians by air, they said, adding India has been requesting Saudi Arabia to allow aerial sorties to Saana on daily basis.
The sources said the number of Indians across Yemen was around 5,000 out of which 1,000 were women married to Yemeni nationals. The number of Indians in Saana would be around 3,000, while around 554 were in Aden and 298 were in offshore oil fields.
Talking about air sorties from Saana, officials said air operations at times become difficult as clearance given by authorities in the Yemeni city does not reach those in Djibouti.
So far, a maximum of 337 people hailing from Kerala followed by 246 from Maharashtra have been brought back. A total of 86 people from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, 15 from Bihar, 48 from Delhi, two from Goa and 30 from Gujarat, one from Jammu and Kashmir and 34 from Karnataka have also been brought back.
Among those who were evacuated include one each from Madhya Pradesh and Odisha, four from Rajasthan, 85 from Tamil Nadu, 30 from Uttar Pradesh, 42 from West Bengal and 16 from other states, as per official details.
Asked whether Pakistan was given preference as around 600 Pakistanis could be evacuated from Saana around four days back, the sources said they left the city in a convoy without considering the security implications. They said Saudi authorities had conveyed to India that land route would be fraught with security risk.