RSS Endeavour - Inshore Patrol Boat
2 May 1975 - the first SOS signal was picked up from a ship carrying 300 people from Indo-China. Later that day, several more vessels from Indo-China were sighted and they continued to stream in over the next 13 days. A total of some 64 ships and 8,408 "boat people" arrived during this period. The Navy was called upon to manage the mammoth task of providing the "boat people" with food and fuel, as well as repairing their vessels before sending them on their way. Although the operation itself lasted only 13 days, the Navy was tasked to continue these surveillance patrols right through the early 1980s, as such boats continued to trickle in.
Operation THUNDERSTORM was a defining operational experience, but it was a huge drain on the fledgling Navy. The RSN had 14 ships capable of such operations - six MGBs, six PCs, RSS Panglima and RSS Endeavour (a 135-foot patrol boat). They were typically scheduled for 10 patrolling days a month, and also had standby duties to perform. Each time a boat was intercepted, one ship would be assigned to deal with it and the standby ship would be activated to sail. It was not uncommon for a ship to end up with 14-15 patrolling days in a month. Things were unpredictable and exhausting, and plans kept changing.
Everything outside of this operation was set aside. No one was spared. There was no time for training, no time for maintenance, no time for doctrine development. The protracted task of dealing with the influx of "boat people" marked the start of a difficult chapter in the Navy's history.
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