Gandhinagar: A search is underway for the wreckage of the mysterious boat, which exploded after being hunted down by the Indian Coast Guard in the Arabian Sea, as also the bodies of its four occupants, which will be crucial for investigators to reach a conclusion about their intent.
The Coast Guard has also stepped up patrolling and aerial surveillance along the Gujarat maritime border in view of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and Vibrant Gujarat events, which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several foreign leaders next week (rpt) next week.
A search operation is on for the bodies of the crew members and wreckage of the vessel, Coast Guard Commander (North-West Region) Kuldip Singh Sheoran told reporters here on Saturday.
The wreckage and the bodies would help investigators reach some conclusion about the intention.
Regarding reports that there were two suspicious boats in the high seas, Sheoran said they had no such information.
Giving details of the operation carried out in the intervening night of December 31 and January one, he said the Coast Guard intercepted the boat as it got suspicious about the identity of crew who did not resemble fishermen from their dressing style and carried no nets.
"We saw four men on the boat. They were nowhere looking like fishermen, they wore T-shirts and half pants, and this raised suspicion on our side," he said.
The Coast Guard followed the standard operating procedure (SOP) while intercepting the hostile boat, which as intelligence input suggested, had set sail from the port city of Karachi from Pakistan for some "illicit transaction".
He insisted that the vessel was set on fire by its crew members, causing it to explode and later sink. The incident took place about 365 km off the coast of Porbander in the Arabian Sea on the intervening night of December 31 and January 1 after a hot pursuit by Coast Guard.
Asked if the boat occupants were terrorists, The Coast
Guard Commander said, "Multiple Indian intelligence agencies are jointly investigating the incident and they will go to the bottom to it."
He said the Coast Guard received intelligence input at around 8.30 in the morning (of December 31) about the suspicious boat.
"We dispatched our Dornier aircraft and a ship in that direction and by 1 in the afternoon we had positively identified the ship," Sheoran said.
"At around midnight our vessel 'Rajratan' reached near the boat and tried to stop it by following standard operation procedure. But instead of surrendering, the boat started moving in a zig-zag way and switched off lights. We chased it for about one-and-a-half-hours.
"After the hot pursuit, we fired warning shots, but the boat did not stop. We fired more warning shots. After some time, the crew of the boat set it on fire and later it sank with them (occupants)," ICG officer said.
He said the Coast Guard has increased vigilance along the Gujarat coast after the boat incident and also in view of the two upcoming high-profile events here - Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and Vibrant Gujarat Summit.
Pravasi Bharatiya Divas will be held from January 7-9 and Vibrant Gujarat Summit from January 11-13
"We are alert round-the-clock, but due to these events we are on extra alert. Our ships and aircraft are doing their job of patrolling the sea," he added.