Coast­line can be breached


Coast­line needs to be se­cured much more than what it is now as they are con­cerned about non-state ac­tors mak­ing en­try into In­dia land weapons and ter­ror­ists, as ev­i­denced by the Mum­bai ter­ror at­tacks in 2008. This view gets ac­cen­tu­ated fur­ther af­ter In­dia ap­pre­hended the 390-tonne pri­vately owned US ves­sel, Sea­man Guard Ohio off Tu­ti­corin, Tamil Nadu, on Oc­to­ber 12 for il­le­gally en­ter­ing In­dian waters with a cache of 31 as­sault ri­fles and am­mu­ni­tion.

The MV Sea­man Guard Ohio was in­ter­cepted 10 nau­ti­cal miles off Tu­ti­corin af­ter two alerts from in­tel­li­gence agen­cies. The Tamil Nadu po­lice’s in­tel­li­gence branch, the ‘Q’ branch, flashed the first alert on the night of Oc­to­ber 11 to the Min­istries of De­fence and Home.

The sin­gle-page com­mu­ni­ca­tion warned that a ves­sel had been spot­ted an­chored off Tu­ti­corin and it was in­clud­ing “sus­pected il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing armed trans­port”. This was fol­lowed by a sim­i­larly-worded alert from the Spe­cial Branch, the state unit of the R&AW, that day. A Coast Guard pa­trol ves­sel was launched within four hours of the alert and the ves­sel was nabbed. Ad­vanFort, the US firm which owns the ves­sel, has said that it was not en­gaged in any il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties. In a re­cent pe­ti­tion sent to the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia, the firm re­quested the re­lease of its per­son­nel. The ves­sel had em­barked 25 armed guards on board mer­chant ves­sels who pro­vided armed se­cu­rity to mer­chant ves­sels from So­mali pi­rates in the In­dian Ocean.

Four for­mer In­dian armed forces ser­vice per­son­nel were on­board the ves­sel: Har­jeet Singh, a for­mer In­dian Navy sailor and three army vet­er­ans S. Sud­hir, U. Chel­li­a­pan and K.V. Prakash. They were part of the com­ple­ment of 25 guards on­board the ves­sel, six Bri­tish na­tion­als, 14 Es­to­ni­ans, and 1 Ukra­nian. None of them had valid pass­ports or visas. A to­tal of 35 weapons were re­cov­ered from the ves­sel, th­ese in­cluded 31 5.56mm ri­fles, three 7.62mm ri­fles and one 9mm pis­tol. Coast Guard au­thor­i­ties say no proper logs or in­ven­to­ries of the weapons were main­tained.

Be­sides vi­o­la­tions of the Arms Act for which the 35-mem­ber crew is now in prison, Coast Guard of­fi­cials say the ves­sel and its own­ers also vi­o­lated a Septem­ber 2011 no­ti­fi­ca­tion from the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of Ship­ping ask­ing all ves­sels to de­clare whether they were car­ry­ing armed guards on board. The ves­sel also did not hire a ship’s agent in Tu­ti­corin and in­stead pur­chased fuel from fish­er­folk out at sea. It also did not have any au­tho­ri­sa­tion for its anti-piracy op­er­a­tions from its flag state, Sierra Leone.

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