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Old 01-03-2015, 07:49 PM
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Default Coast Guard foils 26/11-type attack, intruder boat blows itself up

NEW DELHI: Coast Guard patrol vessels intercepted a "suspicious" Pakistani fishing boat in the Arabian Sea in the early hours of January 1, thwarting what some in the Indian security establishment contended could have been another attempt to unleash mayhem like the 26/11 strikes in Mumbai.

Defence ministry officials said the four people on the largish fishing trawler set it ablaze after an "hour-long hot pursuit", which ended with "warning shots" being fired to stop the vessel around 365km from Porbandar. The ship, with those on board, finally sank to the seabed amid loud explosions around 6.30am on Thursday.

The defence ministry was quite emphatic that the fishing boat which was being quietly tracked after it began its journey from Keti Bandar near Karachi based on specific intelligence inputs and wireless intercepts was carrying explosives.

"The nature of the fire clearly indicated it had explosives on board. The boat was repeatedly challenged but it increased speed and tried to escape from the Indian side of maritime boundary (India's exclusive economic zone stretches to 200 nautical miles from coast)," said an official.

While other sources did not rule out the possibility of the boat could carrying some other highly inflammable cargo like high-sulphur diesel, which caught fire after being hit by gunfire from Coast Guard patrol vessel ICGS Rajratan, the vessel clearly seemed "to be on a mission" since it was far beyond the Sir Creek area where Pakistani fishing vessels normally operate. "No fishing nets were detected on the boat, which also undertook evasive manoeuvres and switched off its lights on being asked to stop," said another official.

Intelligence agencies also cited intercepts one purportedly talking about payments to families of those on the "terror boat" to say that the it had entered India on a terrorist mission.

The location of the ship off Gujarat coast is considered significant because of the high-profile events Prabasi Bharatiya Divas and Vibrant Gujarat which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others. It also coincided with a fresh effort to sneak terrorists into J&K.

Two Coast Guard vessels are still searching the area for any "tell-tale signs" of the conspiracy that was afoot. Defence minister Manohar Parrikar, on his part, was quick to laud the Coast Guard for doing "a good job" by "intercepting the rogue vessel" in a "timely and precise manner" to avert a serious situation.

The 2008 Mumbai carnage, after all, had exposed the lack of "critical connectivity'' between intelligence agencies and security agencies. There were then some intelligence inputs about fishing vessel Kuber trying to infiltrate through the sea route but it slipped through the cracks, allowing Ajmal Kasab and nine other terrorists to reach Mumbai and unleash the 26/11 strikes.

Since then, the Navy and Coast Guard have dramatically stepped up their maritime security vigil. The failed attempt by al-Qaida's Indian subcontinent wing to hijack Pakistani frigates PNS Aslat and PNS Zulfikar at Karachi last September with the ostensible purpose to use them against Indian and US ships has only reinforced the need for it. "There have been several inputs on threat from the sea in the last couple of months," said the official.

The "successful operation" this time began after intelligence inputs on December 31 that a fishing boat from Keti Bandar was planning "some illicit transaction" in the Arabian Sea, which led the technical intelligence agency NTRO to alert the Coast Guard.

Sorties by Coast Guard Dornier aircraft first located and then continuously tracked the fishing boat, with ICGS Rajratan was also diverted to intercept the boat 365 km west-south west of Porbander around midnight on December 31.

"The four people on the boat disregarded all warnings to cooperate and stopped it only after the warning shots were fired. Soon thereafter, they hid themselves in the compartment below the deck and set the boat on fire. The boat or its crew could not be saved due to the darkness, bad weather and strong winds," he said.

The gaping holes in India's coastal security apparatus exposed by the jihadis during 26/11, however, are yet to be fully plugged. But a major step towards the overall endeavour to keep track of both conventional and unconventional threats in India's primary area of geopolitical interest across the Indian Ocean Region, and "neutralize" them if required, was the recent inauguration of the central hub of National Command Control Communication Intelligence (NC3I) network at Gurgaon.
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