The Pakistani boat that exploded off Gujarat on New Year's Eve was on the radar of India's principal technical intelligence agency right after it left the shores of Karachi, highlighting the country's enhanced maritime security since the 26/11 attacks, experts said.
While Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists managed to reach within eight kilometres of Mumbai in 2008 after hijacking an Indian fishing vessel and used an inflatable speedboat to land in the city, in a thrilling high-sea chase on Wednesday night, Coast Guard ships and aircraft intercepted the suspicious fishing boat about 370 kilometres from Indian shores.
"We have learnt a lot since 26/11. The speed with which the Coast Guard reacted is commendable," defence expert Rear Admiral Raja Menon told a news organisation.
Ajmal Kasab and his nine companions commandeered the fishing vessel MV Kuber, incidentally off Gujarat's coast, killed four crewmembers and forced the boat's captain to navigate them to Mumbai before slitting his throat. They had intended to scupper the trawler after launching their dinghy to make the final journey, but left the vital evidence afloat, officials said.
Gujarat has a porous 1,660-km long coastal area considered sensitive because of its proximity to Pakistan. Indian marine agencies have intercepted several Pakistani boats, mostly fishing vessels, from Sir Creek.
Following the Mumbai attacks, the Indian government assigned the Coast Guard the additional responsibility of patrolling the territorial waters as well as coordinating between central and state security agencies.
A defence ministry statement said as per intelligence inputs received on December 31, a fishing boat from Keti Bunder was planning some illegal transaction in the Arabian Sea.
What went down
In an incident, eerily reminiscent of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, an explosives-laden Pakistani boat blew itself up minutes into the New Year after being pursued by an Indian Coast Guard ship for over an hour.
All four crew of the fish trawler that exploded 200 nautical miles (371 km) off Porbandar are suspected to have died in the tense 16-hour-long drama in the Arabian Sea. Neither the boat nor its crew could be recovered due to rough weather.
“It (the boat) was on a suicide mission. The consequences would have been disastrous had the boat slipped past our defences,” a top navy official told HT.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar heaped praises on the coast guard and those involved in the operation. "I congratulate coast guards for timely action of intercepting a boat carrying suspected terror groups with surgical precision," he tweeted.
Three days before the sixth anniversary of the Mumbai attacks, Parrikar had said a zero-tolerance policy on errors was required to avoid such incidents in the future and guarantee India's coastal security.
A defence ministry official said the trawler stopped only after the coast guard fired shots, but the crew had by then set it on fire, triggering a major explosion that sank the vessel.
The Indian Coast Guard ruled out the explosion being an accident, saying the men on the boat sped away because they were hiding "something really serious".
"If they weren't doing anything wrong, then they had no reason to run, to set the boat on fire. Why would anyone set (themselves) on fire?" said KR Nautiyal, deputy inspector general of the coast guard.