A Pakistani boat seized from near Porbandar, from which narcotics worth around Rs 600 crore was seized, had the same handlers as those of the boat which blew up on the night of 31 December – 1 January, according to intelligence agencies.
The boat which was blown up on 31 December had the same handlers as those of the narcotics boat. Agencies
The suspicious boat carrying narcotics was seized in a joint operation by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard on 20 April.
The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) had been monitoring satellite and mobile phones in the case of the narcotics boat. In fact, the boat had been successfully intercepted because of recorded conversations from Karachi and those of the handlers based in Thailand, according to Indian Express.
“The phone numbers in Karachi and Thailand were kept on constant interception mode during the three months between” the seizing of the boat with narcotics onboard on 20 April and the incident in which a boat was blown up on the night of 31 December, the report added.
However, the chatter picked up by NTRO by the monitoring of satellite and mobile phones does not indicate the destination of the recovered contraband or the nationality of the handlers, it said.
The incident on the night of 31 December took place when a Pakistani boat being chased by the Indian Coast Guard was allegedly set on fire by the people onboard and then blown allegedly blown itself up.
The incident had sparked controversy amid doubts that the boat had actually blown itself up. These were exacerbated when Coast Guard DIG BK Loshali contradicted the government’s official position and had said that it was actually the Coast Guard which had blown up the boat.
With questions being raised over the Pakistani ‘boat’ operation, the Navy on Tuesday said it was kept in the loop by the Indian Coast Guard which had responded “appropriately” to the situation.In a statement here, the Navy said that as the nodal agency for the overall maritime security of the nation, it was kept in the information loop throughout. “Indian Navy denies reports in some sections of the media saying that it had not reacted to the intelligence provided by NTRO.”It is clarified that the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard have responded appropriately to the situation as per the standard operating procedures,” the Navy statement said. The statement came amid reports that Navy did not react to the intelligence generated by the NTRO about the boat from Pakistan and that it was left out of the loop.In a mid-sea operation on the New Year night, a Pakistani fishing boat said to be carrying explosives was intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard off the coast of Gujarat, but the vessel exploded and caught fire before sinking along with four occupants. While the government has said the occupants of the boat were “suspected terrorists”, there have been questions over authenticity of this claim.
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.
Coast Guard intercepts suspicious vessel, but no one says where it came from, what it was carrying
Graphic: Nagesh Baitadiya
The Coast Guard on Friday said that it had intercepted a suspicious fishing boat, 365 km off the Porbandar coast on December 31 night, thus botching a repeat of 26/11.When the Coast Guard fired warning shots and asked the crew to stop and identify, the crew set the boat afire.Defence ministry sources recounted the entire episode this way: A day earlier, on December 30, the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) had intercepted a conversation from Karachi on “transferring vital equipment” to the western coast of India.The Karachi-based guy also said that the cost of each equipment ran into several lakhs of rupees. Another conversation from the same global positioning point said ‘receivers’ have been paid handsomely to transport the consignment, defence sources claimed.The NTRO intercepts were then passed on to the Coast Guard and then the action started.The Coast Guard’s claim, however, leaves several questions unanswered. Even the defence ministry’s well-crafted “official statement” is far from convincing.Here’s what what the ministry statement said:”As per intelligence inputs received on December 31, a fishing boat from Keti Bunder near Karachi was planning some “illicit transaction” in the Arabian Sea. A Coast Guard ship warned the fishing boat to stop for further investigation. However, the boat increased speed and tried to escape from the Indian side.”The hot pursuit continued for nearly one hour and the Coast Guard ship managed to stop the fishing boat after firing warning shots. Four persons were seen aboard the boat and they disregarded all warnings by the Coast Guard. Soon thereafter, the crew hid themselves in the deck below and set the boat afire, which resulted in an explosion and a major fire on the boat.” Where’s the defence ministry slipping?The ministry did not say what kind of cargo the boat was carrying. It didn’t say the boat was carrying explosives. All it said was “illicit transaction”. It did not even say whether the boat was of Pakistani origin or not.Why cannot it be called a fidayeen (suicide) attack?According to the Coast Guard, the crew of the boat hid themselves in deck compartment below and set it afire. “If it really was a boat carrying terrorists for a 26/11 kind of an attack, its crew would have attacked the Coast Guard ship first and blown up the boat only after harming the Coast Guard, ” said a senior intelligence official.Was the boat in Indian or international waters?Even senior intelligence agency wonder why the Coast Guard chased the boat when it was on the fringe of India’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The EEZ extends up to 200 nautical miles or 370 km. According to UN convention, a nation can chase or intercept suspicious vessels if they prohibit the passage the host nation’s passage or if they (suspicious vessels) loiter above or under the surface of the sea. That was not the case here, officials say.When can Coast Guard/Navy intercept a vessel?As per international protocol, the Indian Navy or the Coast Guard can exert limited control for preventing or punishing “infringement of its customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations, or can take punitive action against a loitering ship only in the contiguous zone which extends from the outer edge of the territorial sea to up to 24 nautical miles or 44.4 km. What are the other possibilities?There could be many other possibilities that only a proper investigation could unravel. Here are some:Was the boat smuggling liquor or some contraband?Was it meant to deliver goods within Pakistan and strayed off its course and ventured into Indian waters?Did the Coast Guard fire at the boat? Was it the Coast Guard firing that set the boat afire?