Maharashtra on alert as boat with weapons found in Raigad

Updated on Aug 19, 2022 01:10 PM IST

Deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis later on Thursday said that enquiries revealed that the yacht was owned by an Australian woman.There appeared to be no terror angle in the incident, he added.

The police reportedly found an unidentified boat with three AK-47 rifles and bullets at Harihareshwar Beach and a lifeboat at Bharadkhol, in Raigad district. (HT Photo) PREMIUM
The police reportedly found an unidentified boat with three AK-47 rifles and bullets at Harihareshwar Beach and a lifeboat at Bharadkhol, in Raigad district. (HT Photo)

Mumbai: A sailing vessel drifting in the Arabian Sea since June 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 June 26, and was drifting at sea since then. There appeared to be no terror angle in the incident, he added.

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

It was not immediately clear why the vessel had weapons and ammunition on board. However, Neptune P2P Group, a maritime security solutions provider headquartered in Dubai with offices in the UK and France, said in a statement that it took “security equipment” on board after the vessel requested it for cover in pirate-affected areas.

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 Kalashnikov 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.

“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.

“We are aware of the incident. We are issuing official updates through our website regarding the same and cannot say anything beyond that at this point,” an official from Neptune P2P’s office in Manchester told HT over the phone.

A statement released by Neptune said: “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 6 June 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,” Neptune P2P added.

While the crew was rescued, the Korean ship tried to tow the yacht but the line snapped. The security equipment was eventually abandoned along with the boat, the statement said.

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.

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