Is Mumbai still vulnerable to sea-borne attacks?

Is Mumbai still vulnerable to sea-borne attacks?
Mumbai:  The city continues to remain vulnerable to 26/11-like terror operations involving the use of the city's coast as a landing point for perpetrators.

For, only 16 out of the 28 high-speed boats sanctioned for patrolling the city's coast are operational on paper and investigations by MiD DAY have revealed that the actual number is just eight or less than one-third of the sanctioned strength.

The numbers are bad for the Konkan region as well since only 28 out of the 58 patrol boats sanctioned for the coastline are in operation.

These 28 boats are responsible for patrolling nearly 700 km of coastline (excluding the Mumbai Metropolitan Region) stretching from Dahanu in the north to Sawantwadi, bordering Goa, in the south.

Officials attribute the security lapse to the twin problems of boats not being delivered in some cases and the lack of qualified crew to operate the boats in others.

"In fact, two high-speed boats launched for patrol by a senior minister and senior police officers at a gala ceremony more than a year back made their way straight to the docks, where they lie unused till date," said an official

He added that nearly 29 boats are lying unused in a dockyard close to Alibaug for the same reason.

Deputy Commissioner of Police (operations) Rajkumar Vhatkar said, "16 of the 20 boats delivered to us for patrolling the city's coastline are in operation.

There is a crew shortage and recruitment is underway through the Inspector General of Police (Motor transport) at Pune."

By conservative estimates, the coastal police is facing a shortage of 700 specialised personnel to man the high-speed patrol boats.

Vacancies exist in the categories of captains, sarangs, engine operators and khalasis or able-bodied seamen. Officials said sailors are reluctant to serve on board the sophisticated patrol boats as they are being offered poor salaries.

"Sailors can make more money by working on board the commercial transport and fishing vessels. The state government is, however, sorting the issue. We are trying to recruit captains from the navy and coast guard," said a senior police officer.

"There are no plans to hire crew on contract basis as of now," said DCP Vhatkar. Sources in the coastal police said that it may take a year for even the policemen hired for the job to actually take up patrol duty.

They will have to be trained in the use of the high-speed boats before they are deployed.

In the absence of skilled personnel, the Thane Rural Police has hired fishermen with their old vessels to help patrol a portion of the coast. The same holds true for other areas as well, said an official.

Police teams and officials from the district administration are also conducting a door-to-door survey of people living along the coastline.

The survey will gather details of all the people living in fishing villages, slums and housing complexes close to the coast and help the police keep a tab on people indulging in suspicious behaviour.

"Surveillance has also been increased around possible landing sites after the 26/11 attack," said an officer. Inspector General (Konkan Range) Param Bir Singh was not available for comment.

The Ministry of Home Affairs had sanctioned the purchase of 166 high-speed interceptors to protect western states like Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala after 26/11. 90-odd boats have been made available with six new boats being delivered to the states each month from various shipyards across the country.

The state government has also ordered 29 speedboats at a cost of Rs 250 crore. This is in addition to the 20 boats allotted to Maharashtra by the Centre.

The 12-metre bulletproof patrol boat costs Rs 3.2 crore, whereas the approximate cost of a 9-m long bulletproof boat is Rs 1.3 crore.

Three new bulletproof speedboats mounted with light machine guns have been procured by the district administration to patrol about 50 nautical miles on a daily basis. These boats can touch a speed of 45 knots or 70 kilometers per hour and can intercept any unfriendly boat. Each of these speedboats carries six crew members, including a captain and a police gunner. Fitted with GPS navigation systems, these boats work in tandem with the navy and the coast guard.

The shortages in boats and crew come at a time when there are dozens of alerts pointing to a sea-borne attack taking place in the city again. Joint Commissioners of Police (law and order) Rajneesh Seth and Himanshu Roy confirmed the terror threats but refused to give details of the intelligence inputs.

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