Even as the “terror boat” triggered a war of words between the Congress and BJP, the defence ministry is preparing for an internal review of the intercepted satellite-phone communication that led to the operation. The investigation is to find out if the destroyed boat was carrying explosives and had links with terrorist outfits.Meanwhile, naval analysts said photographs of the burning boat showed that its structure was in tact and the flames had no signs of white plumes, which are characteristically associated with fire involving explosives.Footage from cameras on board the ICG Rajratan, which arrived at the Coast Guard station in Porbandar Sunday evening, and audio tapes of satellite conversations between its crew and their ground station, are expected to provide details of the operation. But, the issue has already sparked off a political debate. After Congress asked the government to come clean on the issue, the BJP retaliated saying it was lending a helping hand to Pakistan.”Today the voice of Congress is lending credence to the Pakistani stand. One cannot differentiate between the voice of Congress and Pakistani spokespersons. Yet again the Congress had suppliedammunition to Pakistan,” BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said.He was responding to Congress spokesperson Ajoy Kumar asking how a terror link was established. “Government should come clean on it. There is no evidence … How can you say that a terrorist attack was prevented? How did they arrive at the conclusion that it was a terrorist boat? It is very strange. Nothing has been explained. Which terrorist organisation was behind it,” he said.Patra asked, “what was the hurry in the Congress to question the Indian Government and lend a helping hand to the Pakistani government. Did the Congress just want to gain some cheap publicity out of a serious issue or is there more to read?”Reacting to him, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari got back at the BJP by reminding it of the 1999 hijacking case and said its leadership had escorted terrorists to freedom. “The government needs to put all the facts in the case in public space,” he said.Investigators would take a close look at what might have set off the fire which would have to include the possibility of firearms being used to target it. The MoD has also asked the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) for logs and audiotape of intercepted Thuraya satellite-phone communications on the basis of which it asked the Coast Guard and Navy to intercept the boat. In a December 31 message, the NTRO said it had picked up Thuraya phone communications between the crew of the boat and their associates on land, but said it pertained to illicit trafficking, not terrorism.The conversation referred to valuable cargo being transferred. The Intelligence was not shared with Research and Analysis Wing or Intelligence Bureau until two days later, even though the NTRO has no mandate to analyse or evaluate Intelligence.A day or two before December 31, a small fishing boat cast off into the Arabian Sea from the hamlet of Keti Bunder, 100 km from Karachi, along Pakistan’s national highway 5. As per an MoD release and Intelligence sources, the boat’s mission was known before it set sail. NTRO intercepts revealed the Pakistani boat would transfer its cargo of explosives to an Indian receiver, who would bring it ashore. “According to the Intelligence inputs received on December 31, a fishing boat from Keti Bunder near Karachi was planning some illicit transaction in Arabian Sea (sic),” says the MoD release.The MoD does not mention the Indian Navy, the nodal agency for coastal security, entirely ignored the alert, assessing it related to low-grade smuggling, not terrorism. The Coast Guard, however, launched an operation. “Based on the input, a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft undertook sea-air coordinated search and located the suspicious vessel. Thereafter, the Coast Guard ship on patrol in the area was diverted and intercepted the unlit boat about midnight, December 31, at 365 km west-south west of Porbandar,” the MoD said. The Coast Guard intercepted the boat just as the New Year dawned. With the suspicious boat refusing to stop to be checked, an hour-long hot pursuit ensued and warning shots were fired.”The crew hid themselves in the below-deck compartment and set the boat on fire which resulted in an explosion and major fire. Due to darkness, bad weather and strong winds, the boat and the persons on board could not be saved or recovered. The boat burnt and sank in the same position in early hours of January 1,” the MoD added.The Coast Guard says due to bad weather and strong winds it was unable to recover any bodies or debris from the vessel. The only proof it has are photographs of the burning vessel.
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