Two vessels attempting to smuggle 23 tonne of red sanders – a variety of sandalwood - worth around Rs 9 crore were apprehended in the high seas late on Thursday.
In all, 20 men were arrested from the two boats in the joint operation by the Indian Coast Guard and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI). They have been handed over to the Mumbai crime branch for further investigation.
Coast guard officials said the trade of red sanders is banned under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Based on information from the DRI on December 2, the coast guard had deployed an aircraft and helicopters for continuous surveillance. The coast guard had also deployed two ships to intercept the vessels.
“As soon as we received the information from DRI, we started patrolling the seas to locate the dhow coming from Gujarat. Once we spotted AL Marwan 10 near Mumbai, we started following it” said Dinesh Rajputran, deputy inspector general (DIG) of the coast guard.
He said they had information that the vessels would meet in the high seas to transfer the consignment, and would use a code word to make it look like they were fishermen. “At the same time, MV Ganga Sagar sailed from Sewri in Mumbai, and both the ships met around 80 miles from Mumbai to transfer red sanders,” said Rajputran.
While transferring the red sanders, men on board the vessels used the code word ‘jinga’ (prawns). One said “maine teen jinga pakda hai” (I have caught three praws) and the other replied “maine do pakda re” (I have caught two), said coast guard DIG Donny Michael. He said their suspicions were confirmed when the boats switched off their lights.
“We, too, switched off the lights of our ships and approached them as the transfer was taking place,” said Michael.
After a short pursuit, the vessels were apprehended about 72 miles south-west of Mumbai.
“We had to fire around 10 rounds before catching them,” said Michael.
Preliminary investigations revealed the consignment was to be smuggled to Dubai, said coast guard officials.