An image of the boat released by the government. (Press Trust of India)
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said on Monday morning that the men on the Pakistan vessel which blew up after being intercepted off the Gujarat coast last week were "suspected terrorists...mainly because they committed suicide." Smugglers, he said responding to questions, would not have killed themselves when challenged.
The minister said the vessel had been under air surveillance for more than 12 hours and also said in an answer to another question that "There was another boat but it was in international waters on the other side."
"I think they were suspected terrorists as they committed suicide, a normal boat even carrying drugs can surrender," the defence minister said, adding that the Indian coast guard had "done the right job at the right time based on intelligence inputs."
The minister's comments to reporters come amid speculation that the vessel was a fishing boat or even one that was carrying smugglers with contraband goods and not one being used by terrorists.
"I will not be a part of speculation," Mr Parrikar said firmly, dismissing such reports.
"The location was not the normal sea route for fishing boats; even the smugglers normally take the busy route so that they can mingle with boats. This was an isolated location," the defence minister said.
Smugglers, he said, "do not keep in touch with Pakistan maritime authorities. And why would smugglers commit suicide."
The Indian Coast Guard has said that on December 31, the Pakistani boat blew itself up about 365 km off the coast of Gujarat's Porbandar after many warnings that it ignored and a "hot pursuit."
Intelligence agencies had reportedly picked up phone intercepts from the boat near Karachi about "expensive cargo" to be delivered near India. Another intercept revealed that those who were to receive the cargo "had been paid and were ready."
The Coast Guard said suspicions were raised about the identity of the crew, as they did not look like fishermen and carried no nets. The maritime law enforcement agency has emphasised that it followed standard operating procedure while intercepting the boat.