Terror boat or not? What you need to know about Pakistan vessel that exploded

In a midnight operation in the high seas on New Year's Eve, a Pakistani fishing boat said to be carrying explosives was intercepted by the Indian Coast Guard off the shores of Gujarat, but the vessel exploded and caught fire before sinking along with four occupants.

The incident, which occurred some 365 km off the coast of Porbander, generated strong speculation that it was another attempted attack of the kind Mumbai witnessed in 2008, when 10 terrorists landed in south Mumbai from the sea and killed over 170 people at the Taj, the Trident and the CST suburban station.

 Terror boat or not? What you need to know about Pakistan vessel that exploded

Representational image.

While Pakistan rejected such reports, the defence ministry said they had received intelligence information that helped them intercept the boat.

Here's all you need know about the incident which has worsened already sour ties between India and Pakistan.

- An intelligence-based midnight operation was conducted by Coast Guard ships and aircraft to intercept the suspected fishing boat.

- The National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) was reportedly tracking the boat right after it left Karachi. NTRO later notified the Coast Guard about the boat, after which it was tracked down using a Dornier aircraft.

- DNA reports that "a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft undertook sea-air coordinated search and located the suspect fishing boat. Thereafter, the Coast Guard ship on patrol in the area was diverted and intercepted the unlit boat at about midnight of 31 December"

- The intercept took place following a precise intelligence-based, Coast Guard Inspector General (Operations) KR Nautiyal said.

- The Defence Ministry said the Coast Guard ship warned the fishing boat to stop for further investigation of the crew and cargo. However, the boat increased its speed and tried to escape from the Indian side of the maritime boundary.

- The hot pursuit continued for nearly one hour and the Coast Guard ship managed to stop the fishing boat after firing warning shots.

- Four persons were seen on the boat who disregarded all warnings by the Coast Guard ship to stop and cooperate with investigations.

- According to the Ministry of Defence, "Soon thereafter, the crew hid themselves in the deck below and set the boat on fire, which resulted in an explosion and major fire on the boat."

- 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 the early hours of 1 January.

- While there has been speculation that this could have been a aborted fidayeen attack, DNA also quoted a senior intelligence official as saying, "If it really was a boat carrying terrorists for a 26/11 kind of an attack, its crew would have attacked the Coast Guard ship first and blown up the boat only after harming the Coast Guard."

- Meanwhile, an Indian Express report said, "new evidence has begun to emerge that those on board might have been small-time liquor and diesel smugglers, ferrying bootleg cargo from the port of Gwadar to other fishing boats which were to have carried it into Karachi’s Keti Bandar harbour."

- Even as the incident saw much shock and speculation in India, Pakistan vehemently denied that the boat was carrying terrorists. Pakistani Foreign Office Spokesman Tasnim Aslam categorically denied the reports and told the media that no boat from Karachi had gone to the open seas. Pakistan's Defence Ministry officials also rejected the reports and said the Indians were "trying to divert attention" from the killing of two Pakistan Rangers on 31 December. "It is part of Indian propaganda to tarnish the image of Pakistan," a Defence Ministry official told PTI.

- On Friday, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said, "I congratulate the Coast Guard for the timely action of intercepting a boat carrying suspected terror groups with surgical precision, thereby eliminating danger."

- However, according to DNA, intelligence officers are still wondering why the boat was chased. It reports that, "According to UN convention, a nation can chase or intercept suspicious vessels if they prohibit the passage of the host nation's passage or if they (suspicious vessels) loiter above or under the surface of the sea. That was not the case here, officials say."

- While neither Gujarat or Maharashtra police were informed about any intelligence report about any boat along the coast being watched, a senior Gujarat police official told Indian Express, "You don’t need to be a genius to figure out we should have been told, because, if the fishing boat was actually carrying explosives and managed to evade patrols on the seas, we should have been in position waiting for it."

- As speculation mounts on whether this was actually a terror attack or not, Indian Express said three naval officers had told the newspaper, "it was inconceivable that Pakistani fishing boats — typically four-crew vessels, with an average length of less than 25 metres and equipped with 80-220 horsepower diesel engines, or smaller mechanised sailboats with 30 horsepower engines — could outrun the Coast Guard’s state-of-the-art ships."

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Updated Date: Jan 03, 2015 17:23:25 IST