No terror angle, says Fadnavis on boat with 3 AK-series rifles near Raigad beach

Updated on Aug 18, 2022 04:34 PM IST

Maharashtra deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said according to the preliminary information, there was no terror angle in the case but security agencies were looking into all details related to the incident.

No terror angle, says Fadnavis on boat with 3 AK-series rifles near Raigarh beach
No terror angle, says Fadnavis on boat with 3 AK-series rifles near Raigarh beach
ByGautam S Mengle

MUMBAI: A sailing vessel drifting in the Arabian Sea since July sparked panic in Maharashtra after it hit the shore in the state’s Raigad district on Thursday morning because its cargo contained three assault rifles and several boxes of ammunition.

The state’s deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis later on Thursday said that enquiries revealed that the yacht was owned by an Australian woman. Fadnavis added that it was on its way to Europe via Muscat when it suffered an engine failure on July 26, and was drifting at sea since then. There appeared to be no terror angle in the incident, he added.

It was not immediately clear why the vessel had weapons and ammunition on board.

Police said three AK-56 assault rifles and nearly 200 rounds of ammunition were found in the boat
Police said three AK-56 assault rifles and nearly 200 rounds of ammunition were found in the boat

According to the Raigad police, the yacht, which had no occupants, was spotted by locals at the Harihareshwar beach in Raigad at around 8am on Thursday. The locals saw a long metal box inside the boat and opened it, only to find three AK56 assault rifles and several boxes of ammunition. The locals called the Raigad police control room and teams were rushed to the spot.

“We found that the box contained three AK series assault rifles and ten boxes containing over 200 live rounds. A wireless alert was sent out across the Raigad district and nakabandis were urgently set up to try and intercept whoever might have escaped from the boat before it was spotted,” a senior officer with the Raigad police said.

The discovery, a day before Janmashtami and just a couple of weeks before Ganeshotsav, raised security concerns, particularly given the fact that the explosives and arms used in the 1993 serial blasts in Mumbai were also smuggled into the country through the neighbouring Shrivardhan beach. The 2008 Mumbai attackers had also entered the city by sea.

The Indian Coast Guard and the Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) were informed about the incident by the local police on Thursday morning. While ATS despatched a team to the spot, the Coast Guard started inquiries with international maritime agencies to try and trace the origins of the yacht, which is named MY Lady Han.

By Thursday afternoon, Indian authorities received a response from the Neptune P2P Group, a maritime security solutions provider headquartered in Dubai with offices in the UK and France.

“According to the information obtained by the Coast Guard, the vessel is owned by an Australian national named Hannah Londergun. Her husband James Hobert is the captain of the vessel. On June 26, the vessel was sailing from Muscat to Europe when its engine failed. The sailors on board sent out a distress call and were rescued by a Korean war ship a few hours later. However, the vessel could not be towed due to rough waters and kept drifting,” Fadnavis told the Maharashtra assembly.

Late Wednesday night, Neptune P2P issued a detailed statement. Thanking the Indian authorities for their investigation and handling of the matter, it read: “We remain on hand to fully cooperate with them and secure the retrieval of our security equipment.”

“The vessel was to sail from UAE to Egypt and then into the Mediterranean. It sailed on June 6 with Neptune security onboard and embarked the arsenal in the Gulf of Oman. The vessel, however, encountered rough weather as soon as it entered the High Risk Area for piracy on June 9 and sheltered offshore of Muscat, Oman. It made another failed attempt at transit on June 23 and finally lost all power on July 26, after which a distress signal was sent. Two commercial ships in the area being unable to help, the Captain James Hobert was transferred to one of them as his health was failing. The remaining crew members were later rescued by the Korean Navy warship Roks Dae Jo-yeong. The vessel was initially taken under tow but the towing line attached to the warship snapped, pulling out the entire winch at the bow. On 27 July, the Captain of the warship made the decision to abandon the yacht,” the statement read.

Meanwhile, a separate lifeboat hit the shore at Bharadkhol, further along the Harihareshwar beach, which added to the confusion and panic in Raigad. Police officials searched the lifeboat, which was found to be unoccupied, and recovered documents that helped confirm that it had come from the same vessel, MY Lady Han.

“We suspect that the sailors were rescued from the lifeboat, after which it was set adrift, and it kept drifting till it reached Bharadkhol,” a police officer said.

The police are, however, conducting a detailed inventory of all the items recovered from the vessel as well as the lifeboat.

“Since the case involves arms and ammunition and has international ramifications, we are conducting all procedures under direct supervision of the Coast Guard and the central government,” said additional superintendent of police, Raigad, Atul Zende.

Detailed statement by Neptune P2P on what transpired

Late Wednesday night, the maritime security company contracted to safely transport the ammunition and arms issued a statement on what happened to MY Lady Han.

“In June 2022, Neptune P2P Group were contracted to provide maritime security for the Sailing Yacht, Lady Han. The yacht was due to sail from Mina Jebel Ali Marina, UAE, to El Gouna, Egypt and then onwards into the Mediterranean. We were requested to provide security for the vessel’s transit through the designated High Risk Area (HRA) for piracy in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and Southern Red Sea. The yacht sailed on June 6 with Neptune P2P Group security onboard and in compliance with internationally recognised procedures, embarked security equipment in the Gulf of Oman.”

The vessel entered the HRA on June 9 and immediately encountered heavy seas and monsoon conditions, with swells as high as four metres and 40 knot winds, forcing the yacht to look for shelter.

“After declaring the presence of the security equipment to the relevant authorities, the vessel sheltered offshore of Muscat, Oman and awaited better weather conditions. On June 23, the yacht attempted to transit the area but was again faced with severe weather, with swell conditions up to 5m with wind speeds of 45 knots. On July 26, the yacht lost all power and started taking on water. The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) were alerted and they initiated and coordinated a rescue response mission. A distress signal was sent via VHF Channel 16 and the yacht’s Emergency Positioning Beacon (EPIRB) was activated,” Neptune P2P said in their statement.

Two commercial ships that were in the area tried to help but their attempts to tow the yacht failed.

“The yacht’s Captain was transferred to a container vessel due to a deterioration in his medical condition. The remaining crew members were later rescued by the Korean Navy warship ROKS Dae Jo-yeong. With no opportunity to take heavy equipment off the yacht, all personal belongings and security equipment was left on the Lady Han. The vessel was initially taken under tow but the towing line attached to the warship snapped, pulling out the entire winch at the bow. On July 27, the Captain of the warship made the decision to abandon the yacht,” Neptune P2P said.

“The Pakistani Navigation Area Authority responsible for NAVAREA IX were notified and a warning to all mariners of the presence of the abandoned yacht was issued. The loss of the security equipment was reported in compliance with UK Department for International Trade (DIT) procedures. Neptune P2P Group would like to thank UKMTO, the Royal Omani authorities and the South Korean Navy for providing expert assistance throughout this incident. Without their help the outcome of this incident may have been entirely different,” the statement added.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Monday, October 03, 2022
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals