Repeated breaches of security?
Mumbai, June 28 Perhaps it is the monsoons that are driving pirate boats onto the shores of Gujarat, but the last two weeks have seen 32 suspected pirates, in two separate incidents, apprehended off the sensitive coast. What is even more alarming is that the Gujarat coastline, the scene of the Kuber hijack that led to the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008, is supposedly protected by three layers of maritime security, all of which seem to have been breached twice in the last ten days.
In the first incident on June 20, 14 Somali pirates and 3 Yemeni hostages were caught off the Junagadh coast. The second incident, off Dwarka on June 26, involved 18 Somalis, 2 Yemenis and 1 Tanzanian. In the Junagadh incident, the pirates made a mockery of the coastal security apparatus when they swam to the Junagadh shore after their boat floundered.
Jamnagar SP Subhash Trivedi said, “They were spotted in a big rubber boat by locals. Police detained them and they turned out to be Somalis and Yemenis. Preliminary investigation has revealed that the Somalis are pirates. The Yemenis were abducted by the Somalis.”
Authorities say that the Somalis in both incidents are pirates who dumped weapons and communication equipment in the sea after their boats floundered or ran out of fuel.
Interrogation has revealed that at least one boat may have been drifting for seventy days, the men on board surviving on raw fish and seawater after running out of fuel and rations.
Gujarat, with the longest coastline of any State in the country (1600 km) has 10 marine police stations, 32 outposts, 16 check posts and 28 interceptor boats along the coast. However, media reports quote a senior police official saying on condition of anonymity that the boats were not put out to sea because of bad weather. "Usually fishermen tip us off about anything unusual, but with the onset of monsoon, neither the fishermen nor our boats go to sea. Surveillance is left entirely to the Navy and Coast Guard."
These developments come even as Indian naval Chief Nirmal Verma admitted last month that pirates were shifting their activities to within 500 nautical miles of the Indian coast. Analysts had earlier warned that the advent of the monsoons would increase attacks in the northern Arabian Sea and at the entrance to the Straits of Hormuz; the Gujarat incidents have to be seen in connection with these warnings.
The discovery of the Somalis on the Dwarka coast is alarming also because the Dwarka and Somnath temples are major pilgrimage centres and on high security against terror attacks. Nonetheless, authorities are putting a brave face on the two incidents. "Our marine police arrested the Somalis and others in the group some three km away from Jagat Mandir of Dwarka. They were nowhere in the vicinity of the temple which is on a high alert," said Trivedi.
Of course, nobody is commenting on the how it was possible for the pirates to stay undetected or unchallenged for so long.