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As the vessel prepared to commence on a patrol mission, the crew pulled out the ropes which kept Interceptor Boat C-409 tethered to the jetty. “It takes up to 15 minutes to check one fishing boat physically. Gujarat alone has close to 27,000 such boats,” stressed the Coast Guard sailor, trying to emphasize the necessity of pin-point intelligence as was available in the case of the Pakistani fishing boat. With the neutralization of threat has also come its validation. What follows is the further tightening of the already-tightened offshore security set up.
The Coast Guard jetty inside Gujarat Maritime Board’s (GMB) all weather port is the hub of force’s operations in the ever-sensitive waters off Gujarat coast. It houses as many as four vessels, big and small. The Indian Navy (IN) too wants to come there. In fact, port staff informed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was commission the naval jetty this week before it was indefinitely postponed following the interception on new year’s eve.
Once at sea, the operational directive from their higher formation determines what the crew of the C-409 will do. With their limited resources, endurance is not it’s forte. High speed interception is. It’s water jet propulsion ensures quick escalation as well as de-escalation of pace with firm controls ensuring effective maneuvering.
“Machimar boat ubhi rao” (Fishing boat, stop your movement) is the forcible order emitted out of its loud hailer which can be heard at be as far as a kilometer at least. Message is repeated till crew comes out with their hands up. From the rear, an inflatable dinghy is launched and a fully armed commando party boards the suspect to investigate. All papers including bonafides of the boat and crew are checked and if satisfied, are allowed to proceed. Challenges on the job multiply when operating at post sunset. Add to that the misery faced by the crew when on distant missions it has to square up with rough seas. “We even go up to the maritime boundary line which is close to 360km from Porbandar. When the sea is rough, a small boat like ours is tossed around like it means nothing. We can’t eat or even sleep in such times but duty has to be done,” explained a sailor. Evidently none of the crew members had even a hint of bulging belly. “If you wish to lose weight, get posted on a smaller boat,” joked another crew member.
Fully digitized in terms of controls, monitoring of engine and equipment C-409 and it’s class of boats, a positively growing breed in the Indian Coast Guard (ICG), offer quick access which large vessels with greater endurance can not. “A Heavy Machine Gun (HMG) mounted in the front and two Light Machine Gun (LMG) mounts at the rear offer offensive capability,” explained a crew member.
Ever since Mumbai attacks of November 2008, where a Porbandar-based fishing boat was hijacked by Pakistani terrorists, fishermen at high seas have evolved the practice of group fishing. For the ICG it means frequently encountering large clusters at sea. The ICG has been trying hard to woo the community with the idea of making them it’s eyes and ears. Apart from providing a dedicated channel on their Very High Frequency (VHF) sets, ICG wants all sea going boats, big or small to have Global Positioning System (GPS) as well as Distress Alarm Transmission (DAT) sets so that instant communication irrespective of distance from shore can be maintained.
“Pakistan Maritime Security Agency (MSA) was directly coordinating with this suspect boat. They have close to 700 Indian fishing boats under their custody. If they begin allowing terrorists to use Indian flag boats, it will make things very difficult. Thus no matter,what we do or how many ships we have, in the absence of precise intelligence it will mean nothing,” explained another crew member onboard C-409.
Naturally members of the boat are tight-lipped about the operation on new year’s eve. Even authorities have till date chosen to keep the decibel level over it to a minimum. “Believe me, we are yet to even meet our colleagues who are onboard our ship Rajratan which participated in the operation,” said a crew member expressing the pace of operations. When this correspondent visited the Coast Guard jetty in Porbandar, barring C-409, no other vessel was present.
As the encrypted message arrived and the young Commanding Officer (CO) ramped up his speed to meet his target, a crew member quipped, “The sea is boundless and there can never be enough boats. We need our intelligence agencies to deliver devoid of which our assets won’t matter much. Isn’t that what the Mumbai attacks showed us?”
MORE ABOUT C-409
- Designed and built by Larsen & Toubro, Surat
- Commissioned into Coast Guard in November 2014
- Carries a compliment of 12 sailors and one officer
- Length of 27.8m, displacement 106 tonnes
- Can do speeds upto 90km per hour