It was an operation hailed as a classic case of jointmanship between multiple security agencies. After the disaster of 26/11, when agencies could barely get their act together before terror struck, here was timely cooperation leading to the target getting neutralised before damage could be done.
However, it is only now emerging that the case concerning the terror boat which came periliously close to Indian waters on new year’s eye, was not devoid of a turf war and one upmanship between the two lead maritime security agencies i.e the Indian Navy (IN) and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG).
Reliable sources have confirmed that the two agencies sparred for access to ICG in-shore patrol vessel (IPV) Rajratan which was the craft which intercepted the Pakistani fishing vessel and its crew on the intervening night of December 31, 2014-January 1, 2015. While the IN was keen to get onboard and dig details about the incident from the vessel’s records which could include photographs, videos, ship’s logs, navigation charts, ammunition expended as well as access to the crew, the ICG was determined to stop this since it did not want its ‘crew members to be treated like accussed persons’. While ultimately the ICG’s view prevailed over the IN and the crew was not subjected to any examination, the incident has left a bitter after taste. When asked, it was confirmed that the naval team was indeed at the jetty when the Rajratan arrived. Additionally, neither the navy nor coast guard denied the issue but chose not to elaborate the intention behind the navy’s probe and the subsequent denial of access.
On the evening of January 3, when the 50m long ICGS Rajratan commissioned into the ICG in February 2013 returned and berthed alongside at the Porbandar Coast Guard jetty inside the Gujarat Maritime Board’s all-weather jetty, already awaiting its arrival was the Naval Officer In Charge (NOIC), a Commodore rank officer of the IN alongwith local officials. While the presence was not objected to at any point but the ICG had to categorically deny the Commodore access to the ship and crew, which was sought. The IN team had to be asked to step aside and the ICG prevailed. Meanwhile senior officials of the ICG also prevailed upon the defence ministry and committed themselves to sending a detailed report on the issue as well as share photographs and videos of the incident at the earliest. That very evening, the Commander Coast Guard Region (North West), an Inspector General rank officer, flew down to Porbandar, collected the videos and by Monday, i.e January 5, the videos were handed over to the office of the Defence Secretary with no copies made. From conversations pieced together in New Delhi as well as in Porbandar, the entire team led by the NOIC was aghast at this treatment meted out to them and felt the ICG was being too defensive. However, it was mutually decided to not aggravate the same. The Coast Guard ship Rajratan, which can embark a compliment of six officers and 30 sailors sailed out of Porbandar on the evening of January 5 for patrolling the maritime boundary line as well as spotting debris, if any, of the Pakistani boat.
Being the overall incharge of coastal security, officials of the IN felt justified in seeking access whereas the ICG pending direct orders in this operation, which was launched and executed at the behest of the National Technological Research Organisation (NTRO), which is directly under the National Security Advisor (NSA) and by extension the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), did not feel compelled to comply. Justifying the ICG’s response, the senior MoD staffer stated, “As I see it, the ICG felt aggrieved about what it saw as navy’s lack of participation in the operation which took place at a time when celebrations were in the air,” said a source.
A detailed set of questions was sent to the IN, ICG and Ministry of Defence seeking a clarificiation on the incident. While the ICG and MoD did not respond, Public Relations Officer (PRO), Indian Navy, confirmed the presence of the NOIC. The officer said, “As the overall head in a state, the NOIC was well within his right to show up.”However when asked for a claritification about the sparring, no response was received.
THE OPERATION – A background
At the culmination of a two month long vigil, on January 2, the Ministry of Defence announced the execution of an ‘intelligence based operation’ 365 km from Porbandar. It said that a Pakistani fishing boat was to engage in an illicit operation in the Arabian Sea and had sailed from Keti bunder near Karachi. Based on an input, a Coast Guard Dornier plane spotted and tracked the movements and simultaneously coordinated operations to ensure their ships were also in the vicinity. The fishing boat was intercepted by Rajratan on the night of December 31. On being asked to stop, the boat did not comply and instead tried to evade. The MoD then claimed that these men set the boat on fire which resulted in an explosion. Neither any dead bodies nor debris was located. Interestingly, notwithstanding the navy’s claim of being involved in the operation from the start, neither the MoD nor the defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who issued a separate congratulatory message, named the navy or spoke of its contribution in any way.