Multiple security agencies have ruled out any terrorist link to eight abandoned boats recovered off the Gujarat coast in five months and triggering a major security scare after a tip-off by Pakistan this month, a top police official said on Saturday.
On March 5, a day after the eighth boat was found near Koteshwar in Kutch district, Pakistan’s national security adviser Naseer Janjua said 10 terrorists have sneaked into India, leading to a multi-city alert and nationwide manhunt.
Investigations by several agencies including Gujarat police, Intelligence Bureau, Border Security Force (BSF) and Customs found that the boats belonged to Pakistani fishermen who fled for fear of being caught.
Hundreds of fishermen from both countries are arrested every year for violating maritime boundary after they veer off course, sometimes intentionally, in search of a better catch.
“No trace of anything indicating that these boats could have been used by terrorists or for terror activities was found,” said Gujarat police’s border range inspector general AK Jadeja.
“The agencies have come to the conclusion that the boats were abandoned by Pakistani fishermen fearing arrest by Indian security agencies.”
Pakistan-based terrorists had used a fishing boat to sneak in Mumbai in 2008 to launch one of the most brazen attacks on Indian soil, killing 160 people and injuring scores.
The security alert by Islamabad came weeks after terrorists believed to be from the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed attacked an airforce base in Pathankot , leaving seven Indian security personnel dead. Six terrorists were also killed during the siege.
The police official said the investigations have even ruled out drug smuggling from the seized boats.
“All the boats were carrying almost similar things like fishing nets, blankets, food and, in a couple of cases, fish. Nothing indicated that these boats could have been used for anything other than fishing,” said Jadeja.
He added that most of the seized boats – 20-feet-long on an average – were in bad shape, indicating that the fishermen were “probably prepared to leave the vessels behind, if required”. The boats are in the custody of customs department in Kutch.
IB sources said most of the times boats come drifting to the shores from the several creeks, tidal water channels that flows out into the sea, that dot the coastline.
A BSF official said that the fishermen are often alerted by the sound of patrolling speedboats.
“The noise helps Pakistani fishermen to spot us and flee. If the water level (in the creeks) is high then they swim towards Pakistan till they find some boats in their waters.”