'Valuable Cargo' Chat Was Intercepted Before Fishing Boat

Published: January 02, 2015 17:36 IST
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(Nitin Gokhale is a well-known defence and strategic affairs analyst, author and media trainer.)

Had it not been for the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO)'s electronic and cyberspace surveillance capability, the Indian Coast Guard would have found it difficult to prevent a 26/11-type of intrusion from the Arabian Sea on New Year's Eve. (Pakistani Boat Blows Itself Up at Sea Off Porbandar)

Sketchy but important details available with me indicate that it was the NTRO's interceptors who first chanced upon a conversation that spoke of "delivering valuable cargo" on the India coast and that "arrangements were made to receive it on the Western sea coast" on the morning of December 31.

The call had originated in Karachi. Still, it was only one input. So the Indian Navy and Coast Guard were immediately told to look for suspicious boats. As the search was mounted by ships and airplanes, it was not until 11 pm on December 31 that a boat was spotted.

The Coast Guard and the Navy, already on alert because of heightened tension with Pakistan, were then informed. The Coast Guard kept a close vigil through the day on December 31 off the Porbandar coast.

Around 11 pm, a suspicious boat was spotted about 200 nautical miles off the coast of Porbandar. It was just bobbing around mid-sea and didn't show the usual activity of a fishing boat. Moreover, no Pakistani fishing boat travels this far from the country's coast.

With suspicion aroused, a Coast Guard ship sought to intercept the fishing boat and investigate. Instead of cooperating with the Indian Coast Guard, the fishing boat tried to head back towards Karachi. As the chase began, several warning shots were fired. After an hour, perhaps running low on fuel, the occupants set the fishing boat on fire. Several loud explosions occurred and a massive fire broke out on the boat. At least four men were spotted on the boat before it sank, according to a Ministry of Defence statement. (Read more...)

Intelligence sources say going by the intercepts and the movement of the boat, it can be concluded that it was carrying deadly explosives and possibly guns meant for delivery on the Western sea board of India to a predetermined spot and a group of people. It is, however, not clear if the target was Mumbai like last time or any other major tourist spot on the Western sea coast.

A further search of the area is still on but the well-coordinated operation shows that post-26/11, India's maritime surveillance and prevention capabilities have shown major improvements. The coordination between different agencies is now almost real time as this operation has demonstrated but despite such a progress, there's no guarantee that future terror attacks can be prevented simply because terrorists have the luxury of choosing the time and space for the attack.

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