New Delhi (IANS): A suspicious Pakistani fishing boat apparently loaded with explosives blew up in the sea and sank off Gujarat after being intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard, officials said Friday, prompting fears that a major terror attack may have been planned.
The Pakistani vessel, which had set off from near Karachi on the eve of New Year, turned into a ball of fire and sank after its occupants, believe to be four in number, set fire to it early Thursday, about seven hours after it was spotted following an intelligence tip off.
Darkness and bad weather prevented the Coast Guard from apprehending any of the crew as they sank in the Arabian Sea along with the vessel.
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”, an official statement said.
The dramatic incident — a reminder of the manner Pakistani terrorists sneaked into Mumbai in 2008 — took place on Dec 31-Jan 1 night. The Coast Guard’s Deputy Director General K.R. Nautiyal said he suspected “something serious”.
Nautiyal told the media that the boat was spotted by a military aircraft, nearly 365 km from Porbandar in Gujarat late Wednesday night.
At least three aircraft monitored the boat, and it was intercepted by Coast Guard ships near the India-Pakistan maritime boundary, around 11.30 p.m. Dec 31.
Nautiyal said the boat switched off its lights when it was asked to halt for an inspection of the crew and cargo.
“The boat started manoeuvring to escape. We chased it for nearly an hour and a Coast Guard ship managed to stop it with warning shots,” he said.
The crew members, four of whom were spotted, then went below the deck. It then blew up, indicating it may have been carrying explosives.
“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 Jan 1,” a defence ministry statement said.
Nautiyal said the boat sank at 6.33 a.m. after being cornered.
“There must be something serious. If they were not doing anything wrong, why would they run away and set the boat on fire,” he said.
Nautiyal said the intention of the boat and those on board would be known once all “dots are joined”.
“The intelligence inputs, accounts from the Coast Guard ships and the aircraft will help,” he said.
Nautiyal called the incident the outcome of “good coordination between the intelligence and forces”.
Experts meanwhile said the incident reminded of the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008 when 10 Pakistani terrorists massacred 166 Indians and foreigners.
The terrorists had hijacked Indian fishing boats to enter Mumbai.
“This is a matter of concern. It appears a big terror strike was being planned, reminds of 26/11… It also shows that Indian agencies are alert and prepared,” security expert Qamar Agha said.
Retired major general S.R.Sinho said the blast in the boat “is a clear indication they were coming with a lot of explosive. Probably they wanted to enter Indian soil”.
Strategic expert Commodore C. Uday Bhaskar told IANS: “The incident does remind one of the Mumbai terror attack, but it also reflects positively on the Coast Guard and shows we are better prepared now.A
He said it “can be linked to the US president’s visit (to India this month)”.
The Indian Navy chief had last month warned of increased threats from the sea.