PAKISTAN BOAT: As the search for bodies draws to an end, re-posting my piece on the costly chance that we missed


Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on February 3
Article appeared in the MAIL TODAY newspaper on January 3

It is emerging that the episode on the intervening night of December 31-January 1, where a boat crossed the notional International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) off Gujarat onto the Indian side and sank after being challenged by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) may not be over on two accounts.

A top officer of the force revealed that contrary to what the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has claimed in its official statement, the four men who were spotted onboard the vessel plunged into the waters moments before the vessel was set ablaze. This scenario which has been kept under wraps, has forced the ICG to maintain presence. Not only that, the National Technological Research Organisation (NTRO), the agency which is credited with getting the lead about this vessel, has specifically asked the ICG to remain on standby ‘for more actionable intelligence’ indicating that the operation may not be over.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the senior officer said, “Our ship, Inshore Patrol Vessel (IPV) Rajratan, which was tailing the vessel, has reported seeing the men jump into the sea almost simultaneously with the vessel being set ablaze.” This has triggered a rush to nab ‘even one of them alive if possible’. The NTRO has additionally asked the ICG to ensure that its ships do not leave the waters. When asked, the source responded, “We do not know what is their input but we are coordinating fully and doing what is being asked of us. The operation is on.”

Deputy Director General of ICG K Nautiyal confirmed this development. He said, “We are yet to connect all the dots in this case. So we want to find what this vessel was to do and till that time, our operation will continue.”

According the a defence ministry statement, “due to darkness, bad weather and strong winds, the boat and the persons onboard could not be saved or recovered”. The defence ministry has also categorically stated that the boat was carrying explosives and was to conduct ‘illicit transaction in Arabian sea’.

Action at sea

On December 31, at 9:30am, first information came to the Coast Guard with the specific coordinates on this particular boat. Accordingly, it was being tracked from then on.

11:30am: First flight of the Dornier aircraft took off from Porbander airbase and managed to locate the vessel. Particular instructions were provided to the aircraft to ensure that it did not fly too low and plant suspicion into the minds of those on the boat.

2:30pm: Second flight launched to track the boat.

5:30pm: Before sun set the ICG wanted to be sure and not lose the boat thus this flight too was launched. Meanwhile, ICG ship Rajratan was inching its way to the location as this boat carried on.

About the Coast Guard ship Rajratan

It is a 50m long Inshore Patrol Vessel designed and built at the Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers. Its maximum speed is 34 knots and has an endurance of 1500 nautical miles once fuelled up. It was commisioned on February 11, 2013 and has a compliment of 30 sailors and six officers including the Commanding Officer.

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