The government on Tuesday stuck to the “one Pakistani boat” version even as a Navy graphic depicted that a second boat was “reported” but not “located”.
Officials said that as of Tuesday evening, the boat’s crew had “verbally” admitted that they are Pakistani nationals and that further investigation would reveal concrete evidence that they belonged to Pakistan. The government, meanwhile, has maintained that the operation led to “eight Pakistani nationals manning the boat” being apprehended.
The Indian Express had Monday reported that there were two boats—Fiza and Fatima— each having four persons on board.
Officials said Fiza was intercepted by Coast Guard and Navy 150 nautical miles off Porbandar and eight persons were apprehended. As of Tuesday evening, they were being interrogated by a dozen agencies including Coast Guard, Navy, Customs, Narcotics Control Bureau and maritime police.
Meanwhile, a Navy graphic suggested that two boats were reported at 215 and 245 nautical miles off Porbandar, following which Coast Guard units were pressed into action. “Multiple units from the Navy and Coast Guard were deployed for the operation which included ICGS Sangram along with IN ship Nirghat and Kondul,” said a Defence Ministry statement. Dornier, IL- 38 and P-8i aircraft of the Navy and Coast Guard also took part in the search operation.
Navy officials said the three-day long operation ended with ICGS Sangram intercepting the boat on board which a large amount of narcotics was found.
ICG Commander Coast Guard (North West) Kuldip Singh Sheoran said, “After the verification of the contraband, it was confirmed that its pure heroin. A total of 232 packets… were seized. The international market price of the contraband is estimated to be Rs 600 crores”.
The officials refused to comment on whether the alleged smugglers have terror links. They said the contraband consignment was meant for the supply in the European market and added that a detailed probe on that front is underway.
Navy officials further said: “The boat appeared to be a normal fishing boat, but had satellite phones and GPS chips hidden within, These men belong to a widespread network of the drug peddlers who often use Indian waters for smuggling. Primary interrogation shows they are carriers who were meant to deliver the consignment”.
Fiza and its crew will be handed over to Narcotics Control Bureau for further investigations. Coast Guard sources said the eight “Pakistani” nationals will be treated in accordance with Maritime Zones of India Act 1981. “The interrogation will make it clear where the boat originated from. It will also establish to whom the consignment was to be delivered and unveil if there exists a trail,” an official said.
Officials further said that the boat was in international waters and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea permits government agencies to “arrest the persons and seize the property on board”.
The incident brought back memories of the December 31 operation when a “Pakistani terror boat” reportedly blew itself off Porbandar, after being chased by a Coast Guard ship. Over a month later, Coast Guard DIG BK Loshali, speaking to a small gathering in Surat, contradicted the government version and said the Coast guard blew away the suspect boat.
Loshali is currently facing an inquiry.