In a midnight operation in the high seas, a Pakistani fishing boat said to be carrying explosives was intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard off the coast of Gujarat, but the vessel exploded and caught fire before sinking along with four occupants.
The incident which occurred on the night between December 31 and January 1, some 365 kms off the coast of Porbander, generated strong speculation that it was reminiscent of 2008 Mumbai terror strikes, but there was no official confirmation of that with the Defence Ministry merely stating that the boat from Keti Bunder near Karachi “was planning some illicit transaction” in the Arabian Sea.
The intercept took place following a precise intelligence-based midnight operation which was conducted by the Coast Guard ships and aircraft to intercept the suspect fishing boat, Coast Guard Inspector General (Operations) K R Nautiyal said.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar complimented the Coast Guard and those involved in the operation for intercepting the “rogue vessel” in “timely and precise manner, thereby avoiding a possible danger”.
Though the full details of the incident were not immediately available, there was some speculation whether the vessel was engaged in smuggling or a sinister 26/11 type mission. The speculation also focused on whether the diesel tank of the vessel caught fire during the operation.
“We received an input from intelligence agencies about the vessel and we intercepted it,” Additional Director General of Coast Guard Rajendra Singh said.
Both he and Nautiyal refused to speculate on the possible mission that the boat was on and whether there was a terror angle.
But Nautiyal said that if the vessel was not into “illegal activity”, there was no reason to try and escape by “evasive manoeuvring” when the Coast Guard intercepted it.
The Defence Ministry said the Coast Guard ship warned the fishing boat to stop for further investigation of the crew and cargo. However, the boat increased its speed and tried to escape away from the Indian side of 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 below deck compartment and set the boat on fire, which resulted in an explosion and major fire on the boat,” the Ministry said.
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 January one.
Coast Guard ships and aircraft are continuing operations in area to search for any possible survivors.
The Coast Guard and other security agencies were maintaining high vigil in maritime and coastal areas in last couple of months due to several inputs on threat from the sea.