Intelligence agencies tracking two incidents involving Pakistani vessels off the Porbandar coast — one was blown up on the night of December 31-January 1 and another seized with heroin on board on April 20 — have concluded that the handlers of both operations were the same.
In both cases, the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) monitored satellite and mobile phones. Officials told The Indian Express that the vessels were successfully intercepted because they had recorded conversations from Karachi and those of the handlers based in Thailand.
The phone numbers in Karachi and Thailand were kept on constant interception mode during the three months between the two incidents.
On January 3, less than 48 hours after the Coast Guard said a Pakistani boat exploded after being set on fire by its crew following a chase, The Indian Express reported that those on board might have been smugglers. On February 16, Coast Guard DIG B K Loshali, contradicting the government’s position, said it was the Coast Guard which blew up the Pakistani boat on the night of December 31. And that he was the one who ordered: “Blow the boat off.We don’t want to serve them biryani.”
An official aware of the monitoring of phones said: “We were lucky members of the syndicate continued using the phones, so we were able to track and intercept the boat with over 200 kg of heroin.”
Officials believe that the same syndicate was also guiding a second boat which had sailed out of Keti Bandar near Karachi with the one bombed on December 31-January 1. This second boat could not be intercepted by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard.
In the case of the boat with heroin on board, the NTRO recorded conversations over a three-day period — these are mostly brief conversations guiding the eight men on the boat with directions, weather conditions and so on.
But the electronic chatter picked up by NTRO gives no clear indication on the final destination of the recovered contraband or the nationality of the handlers in Thailand.
Details such as the final destination of the vessel would have been fed into the GPS, recovered after the seizure, and the identities of the handlers in Karachi and Thailand could emerge during questioning of the men on board.
The questioning is still on and is being conducted by a panel of sleuths from intelligence agencies, the Naval intelligence, Narcotics Control Bureau and Gujarat Police.
The NTRO, once it confirmed from the phones they were monitoring that a “suspect” Pakistani boat was headed to the Arabian Sea with an “illicit” consignment, immediately alerted Naval authorities and intelligence agencies. Within hours, the Coast Guard moved in.
Officials said they do not rule out the possibility that the eight men, now in custody, dumped personal firearms or an arms consignment in the sea once they realized there was no escape.