A search operation is underway for the wreckage of a suspicious Pakistani boat that blew itself up late Wednesday night in the Arabian Sea after being intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard and the bodies of its four occupants.
The Coast Guard has also stepped up patrolling and aerial surveillance along the Gujarat maritime border in view of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (January 7-9) and Vibrant Gujarat events (January 11-13), which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several foreign leaders.
The wreckage and the bodies would help investigators reach some conclusion about the intention of the crew on board.
The has incident brought back memories of the terror attacks in Mumbai six years ago. Then, 10 gunmen had travelled from Karachi in a boat, hijacked an Indian fishing vessel and steered it to Mumbai to go on a three-day rampage during which they killed 166 people.
Security was also tightened along the Tamil Nadu coast that was put on high alert following the New Year’s eve high-seas chase.
“Patrolling teams are keeping vigil on the territorial waters as well as on the shore,” said C Sylendra Babu, additional director general of police, Coast Gua.
Regarding reports that there were two suspicious boats in the high seas, Coast Guard commander (north-west Region) Kuldip Singh Sheoran told reporters they had no such information.
Giving details of the operation carried out in the intervening night of December 31 and January 1, he said the Coast Guard intercepted the boat as it got suspicious about the identity of crew who did not resemble fishermen from their dressing style and carried no nets.
"We saw four men on the boat. They were nowhere looking like fishermen, they wore T-shirts and half pants, and this raised suspicion on our side," he said.
The Coast Guard followed the standard operating procedure (SOP) while intercepting the hostile boat, which -- according to intelligence inputs -- had set sail from the port city of Karachi from Pakistan for some "illicit transaction".
Sheoran insisted that the vessel was set on fire by its crew members, causing it to explode and later sink. The incident took place about 365 km off the coast of Porbander, Gujarat.
Asked if the boat occupants were terrorists, the Coast Guard commander said, "Multiple Indian intelligence agencies are jointly investigating the incident and they will go to the bottom to it."
He said the Coast Guard received intelligence input around 8.30 in the morning (of December 31) about the suspicious boat.
"We dispatched our Dornier aircraft and a ship in that direction and by 1 in the afternoon we had positively identified the ship," Sheoran said.
"Around midnight, our vessel 'Rajratan' reached near the boat and tried to stop it by following standard operation procedure. But instead of surrendering, the boat started moving in a zig-zag way and switched off lights. We chased it for about one-and-a-half-hours.
"After the hot pursuit, we fired warning shots, but the boat did not stop. We fired more warning shots. After some time, the crew of the boat set it on fire and later it sank with them (occupants)," he added.
Sheoran said the Coast Guard was alert round-the-clock, "but due to these events we are on extra alert".
The Pakistan boat drama came barely a month after navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan said his force would observe no niceties if it came across Pakistani vessels due to a possible threat -- against the backdrop of militants attempting to hijack a Pakistan frigate in September.
The incident was also a chilling reminder of the terror threat on the high seas and the deadly bombing of the USS Cole 14 years ago. In October 2000, suicide bombers exploded a small boat alongside the US Navy destroyer in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 American sailors and injuring another 39.
(With agency inputs)