An explosives-laden Pakistani trawler blew itself up late on December 31 night after being intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard in the Arabian Sea off Porbandar, Gujarat.
The coast guard warned the suspicious fishing vessel to stop for investigation but the boat sped away, leading to a one-hour hot pursuit.
The suspicious behaviour of the boat’s crew brought back memories of the 26/11 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.
This fishing boat too was from Karachi.
The boat stopped after the coast guard fired shots but the four-man crew had by then set it on fire, triggering a major explosion and sinking the trawler, a defence ministry spokesperson said on Friday.
The coast guard had received a specific intelligence alert on December 31 that a fishing boat from Keti Bunder near Karachi was planning some kind of an operation in the Arabian Sea.
“Based on the input, a Dornier aircraft undertook a sea-air coordinated search and located the fishing boat. The ship patrolling in the area was diverted and intercepted the unlit boat around midnight of December 31,” the spokesperson said.
The incident comes as a chilling reminder of terror threat on the high seas and the bombing of USS Cole. 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.
“Due to darkness, bad weather and strong winds, the boat and persons on board could not be saved or recovered,” the spokesperson added. Coast guard ships and planes are combing the area for any survivors.
The incident comes barely a month after navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan said his force would observe no niceties if it came across Pakistani warships due to a possible threat from jihadist groups against the backdrop of terrorists attempting to hijack a Pakistan frigate in September.
He had said on December 3 that it was customary for warships to exchange pleasantries in international waters but if a Pakistani vessel came close to an Indian ship, it would viewed as a possible jihadist threat.
Terrorists had tried to hijack PNS Zulfiqar on September 6 and use it to attack US warships in the Indian Ocean Region. The raid at a naval base in Karachi was allegedly carried out with the help of Pakistani naval personnel, heightening fears of terrorist infiltration into the Pakistan military.
Elaborating on the latest incident, the spokesperson said, “Four persons were seen on the boat who disregarded all warnings by the coast guard ship to stop and cooperate with the investigation. The crew hid below the deck and set the boat on fire.”
Indian Security agencies have been on high alert on the high seas following intelligence inputs on an increased terror threat from the sea.
Three days before the sixth anniversary of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, defence minister Manohar Parrikar had said a zero-tolerance policy on errors was required to avoid such incidents in the future and guarantee India’s coastal security.
Parrikar had added that the Centre would ensure “99.99%” protection against 26/11-type incidents by timely detection. “How do you pull the needle out of the haystack? Zero tolerance to error is the most important in this project.”