A Pakistani fishing boat, suspected of carrying explosives, was intercepted by the Coast Guard in the Arabian Sea around midnight Wednesday but its four occupants blew it up after a nearly hour-long chase, the government said Friday, adding that there was no trace later of either the boat or people on board.
An official statement said “an intelligence based midnight operation” was conducted on the night of December 31 and Thursday by Coast Guard ships and aircraft “to intercept a suspect fishing boat” in the Arabian Sea near the Indo-Pak maritime boundary, approximately 365 km south-west of Porbandar.
The government said there was intelligence input that a fishing boat from Keti Bandar near Karachi was “planning some illicit transaction” in the Arabian Sea.
“Based on the input, Coast Guard Dornier aircraft undertook sea-air coordinated search and located the suspect fishing boat. Thereafter, the Coast Guard ship on patrol in area was diverted and intercepted the unlit boat at about midnight,” the government said.
“The Coast Guard ship warned the fishing boat to stop for further investigation of crew and cargo. However, the boat increased speed and tried to escape from the Indian side of the maritime boundary. The hot pursuit continued for nearly one hour and the Coast Guard ship managed to stop the fishing boat after firing warning shots. Four persons were seen on the boat who disregarded all warnings by the Coast Guard ship to stop and cooperate with investigation. Soon thereafter, the crew hid themselves in a below-deck compartment and set the boat on fire, which resulted in explosion and major fire on the boat.”
“Due to darkness, bad weather and strong winds, the boat and persons on board could not be saved or recovered. The boat burnt and sank in the same position, in early hours of 1st January. Coast Guard ships and aircraft are continuing operations in area to search for any possible survivor. Coast Guard and other security agencies are maintaining high vigil in maritime and coastal areas since last couple of months due to several inputs on threat from the sea,” the government said.
A release from the Ministry of Defence stated that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar “complimented the Indian Coast Guard and those involved in the operation for intercepting the rogue vessel off the coast of Gujarat, in a timely and precise manner, thereby, averting a possible danger”.
A Coast Guard official claimed that one of the intercepts of a conversation with those on board the boat mentioned “Udhar ki hawa dekh ke kaam karo (do your work after assessing the direction of the wind there)”.
Meanwhile, Gujarat police officials said they had no information on the blowing up of the boat until it appeared in the media almost 48 hours later.
When his comments were sought, Porbandar SP Deepan Bhadran said: “I was not aware of this operation.”
Brijesh Kumar Jha, DIG of Junagadh range which covers Porbandar district, said: “We came to know about it after the Coast Guard issued a release. But it’s possible the coastal security wing of IB knew about it. We have already stepped up security in view of the Vibrant Gujarat Summit. After this incident, we have issued orders to our 11 marine police stations to get in touch with fishermen for any leads and remain on alert. We can’t rule out the possibility that another such boat can come.”
Additional DGP (Intelligence) Pramod Kumar said: “We have no official information on this. It happened on the high seas which is outside our jurisdiction. The Coast Guard will have a better idea.”
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