On 26 December 2004, a massive underwater earthquake, measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale, struck off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, triggering several tsunamis which wreaked destruction in countries bordering the Indian Ocean. In response to the widespread devastation, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) activated “Operation Flying Eagle”, a rescue and relief mission to Medan, Banda Aceh and Meulaboh in Indonesia as well as Phuket in Thailand. The Republic of Singapore Air Force also flew in supplies and support missions to Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Mauritius. “Operation Flying Eagle” was the largest Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) Operation carried out by the SAF. It involved the deployment of more than 1,500 SAF personnel; three Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs); eight CH-47 Chinook and four Super Puma helicopters; six C-130 transport aircraft; and two Fokker F-50 utility aircraft.
A day after the disaster, a Joint Services Conference was convened to discuss the relief measures to be deployed. A decision was made to render assistance to Indonesia and Thailand where Singapore would be of most help. On 28 December 2004, the first flight departed for Medan carrying relief supplies such as food, tents, blankets and medicine. The SAF eventually focused its relief efforts on Meulaboh at the request of the Indonesian government. It was the first foreign aid to reach the fishing town where access had been completely cut off in the aftermath of the tsunami. Over the next three weeks, the SAF built two beach landing points and seven helicopter landing sites in Meulaboh. This opened the way for supplies to reach the town and for Meulaboh to function as a second hub of recovery after the provincial capital Banda Aceh had been inundated with overseas aid. The SAF also provided infrastructural support such as a mobile air traffic tower to ease air traffic congestion at Banda Aceh, a portable water purification plant, telecommunications equipment to improve the communications network and a modular building which served as a coordination centre for relief operations. In addition, the SAF medical team treated 5,174 patients in Meulaboh and Banda Aceh; the LSTs transported 190,000 kg of relief supplies; the helicopters ferried 150,000 kg of relief supplies and 2,500 passengers; and the C-130 and Fokker-50 aircraft carried 240,000 kg of relief loads and 1,200 passengers.
The SAF also provided military transport to the Singapore DVI (disaster victim identification) team in Phuket who were recording the physical characteristics of the deceased in a database so that families could identify their loved ones and to the Singapore Civil Defence Force’s (SCDF) Operation Lionheart contingents who were on search and rescue missions in Aceh and Phuket. As the crisis situation stabilised, the SAF scaled down its operations on 21 January 2005, making way for other aid agencies and non-governmental organisations to continue with the next phase of rehabilitation.
The success of the humanitarian efforts by the SAF were attributed to operational readiness of the land, air and sea units of the armed forces; effective planning and a short command chain; as well as cultural awareness and a good working relationship with the affected countries.
1. Boey, D. (2005). Reaching out: Operation Flying Eagle: SAF humanitarian assistance after the tsunami (pp. 12, 14). Singapore: SNP Editions. Call no.: RSING 363.34938 BOE.
2. Soh, F. (2005, February 13). Operation Flying Eagle. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Deep, S. (2005). Insights from Operation Flying Eagle – Four key success factors. Pointer: Journal of the Singapore Armed Forces, 31(1). Retrieved July 8, 2014, from MINDEF website: http://www.mindef.gov.sg/imindef/publications/pointer/journals/2005/v31n1/features/feature5.html
4. Boey, 2005, p. 25.
5. Boey, 2005, p. 34.
6. Boey, 2005, p. 41.
7. The Straits Times, 13 Feb 2005, p. 12.
8. Soh, F. (2005, February 27). Mission accomplished. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Wain, B. (2005, January 6). The tsunami's aftermath: Singapore establishes ‘bridge’ for tsunami recovery in Aceh. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from Factiva.
10. The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2005, p. 12; Boey, 2005, pp. 77, 92–93.
11. Boey, 2005, pp. 90, 92, 96.
12. The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2005, p. 12.
13. The Straits Times, 27 Feb 2005, p. 12; Soh, F. (2005, February 27). Lessons from grim tasks. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Boey, 2005, p. 32; Deep, 2005.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.