Oil Minister’s Kuwait visit laid foundation for generous medical oxygen supply to India

Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel Dharmendra Pradhan’s visit Kuwait to meet the new Amir of Kuwait laid a foundation for boosting ties and this later turned out to be a fortuitous opportunity which would assist secure much needed Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO) to meet demands here following second wave of Covid.

It was in October last that Pradhan had travelled to Kuwait to convey personal messages of condolences from the President and Prime Minister on the death of the former Amir. The visit by Pradhan turned out to be very useful in securing Kuwaiti assistance in the recent weeks.

In mid-April, as the ferocity of the Covid surge and the attendant respiratory issues became clear, MEA swung into action to procure LMO from around the world. Indian Envoys immediately started scouting around for suitable suppliers, sources told ET.

It was clear that apart from procuring LMO, the logistics of transporting it back to India would be a vital element. Due to safety concerns, LMO cannot be transported by air. And there are limited cryogenic tanks globally that can transport LMO.

Industrial oxygen is produced in large quantities in oil production and refining business. MEA realized that with some processing, this could be converted into medical grade oxygen and countries like Kuwait could be useful sources for LMO.

Indian Ambassador to Kuwait, Sibi George, reached out to the Kuwati authorities.

To push India’s case, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar spoke to his Kuwaiti counterpart, Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah, on April 27 and secured a positive response. Following up on this, the Kuwaiti Cabinet met at an emergency session and offered condolences and immediate support. An unconditional commitment of immediate assistance and support to India was made and instructions were given to the concerned officials to mobilize all available resources and supplies needed by India, sources said.

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George reached out to the Kuwaiti Foreign Ministry, Kuwaiti Port and Industries Authorities, and Kuwait Red Crescent Society. He also visited major industrial gas plants. He was able to secure a commitment of over 1400 MT of LMO from Kuwait. Equally importantly, he was able to convince Kuwaiti interlocutors to lease cryogenic tanks that could ferry this LMO to India in batches, sources informed. This included 7 tanks of 20 MT capacity each, as well as 3 semi-trailer trucks of 25 MT capacity each, totalling upto 215 MT of LMO. All this would be provided on a gratis basis.

The Ambassador also mobilized the Indian community to assist. Around half a million US dollars have been raised, which is being used to send an additional 70 MT of LMO, apart from thousands of oxygen cylinders and some oxygen concentrators.

Next came the challenge of transporting the filled LMO tanks to India. In a well-coordinated operation with Indian Navy, Operational Samudra Setu II was launched. The first lot of 7 tanks has now reached India aboard INS Kolkata, Tabar and Kochi, and the tanks are being decanted. The semi-trailers will reach India later this week on a commercial ship. The LMO from this first shipment will augment medical oxygen availability in Karnataka.

To ensure a quick turnaround, MEA decided to seek IAF assistance. Hence, the empty tanks will be airlifted by IAF back to Kuwait so that they can be quickly refilled. Meanwhile, the Indian Navy ships will return to Kuwait for picking up the next lot of filled tanks. A total of 7 such runs are planned, sources said.

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Kuwait has, thus, become a major supplier of LMO to India. Separately, a Kuwaiti Military Aircraft carrying essential supplies including oxygen concentrators, oxygen cylinders and ventilators reached Delhi on May 4. Thousands of oxygen cylinders have also arrived on board the Indian Navy ships.

Jaishankar on May 11 once again called his Kuwaiti counterpart to convey his appreciation for Kuwait’s assistance. The goodwill generated by the deployment of an Indian Rapid Response Team last year comprising military medical professionals, in the initial days of Kuwait’s battle against Covid-19, also helped immensely. Subsequently India had responded to Kuwait’s call for assistance by supplying 200,000 doses of Made-in-India vaccines.



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