Not all quiet on the waterfront

India’s west coast, with its busy traffic of small fishing boats and giant commercial vessels, can become a twilight zone of terrorist attacks  Vijay Sakhuja Delhi   In the aftermath of the 7/11 Mumbai blasts, the Ministry of Home Affairs had sounded an alert of a possible threat of weapon-landing on the western coast of India following which the Indian Navy, Coast Guard and police had enhanced surveillance along the coast. The latest terror alert relating Lashkar-e-Taeba plans to attack the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has forced security agencies to step up vigil and reinforce additional security measures to safeguard critical infrastructure. The Coast Guard aircraft and vessels are monitoring the coast round-the-clock and the police working in tandem with the Coast Guard and Indian Navy. Besides, high-intensity surveillance cameras have also been installed along the coast. BARC is located on the waterfront and the possibility of an attack from sea is high. The west coast of India has been a popular destination for unloading small arms and explosives. The serial bomb blasts in Mumbai in 1993 led to the recovery of a huge cache of arms and explosives from the Vasai coast, the Thane Creek and Mumbai city. The cache included RDX (3.5 tonnes), hand-grenades, AK-56 (63), 9mm pistols (12), detonators (1,150) and ammunition (49,000) and these had reached the mainland from across the Arabian Sea. The same year, a vessel carrying the consignment was from a Russian company and the captain of the vessel informed the port authorities of the cargo and the consignee, i.e. the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of the Government of India. The MoD denied having ordered any such consignment and inquiries revealed that a person, who had visited the company’s headquarters in Moscow posing as a senior official of the MoD with forged identity papers, had ordered the consignment. He had the payment for the consignment made by a bank remittance from New York. Nobody claimed the consignment and it was confiscated. The Indian authorities strongly suspected the LTTE had ordered the consignment and its plans to effect a mid-sea transfer from the ship to one of its own smaller vessels failed.Not so long ago, in May 2005, the Mumbai police seized a Rs-1-crore consignment that included 34 Webley Colt and Wesson revolvers, three powerful pistols, a silencer and some 1,283 rounds of ammunition. Interestingly, eight containers, each with several barrels, were addressed to an agro-biotech firm. Four of the containers were delivered and the fifth was inspected by the Customs and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and was scanned using a hi-tech X-ray facility. The other three containers were reportedly missing. In July 2005, a consignment of over 100 tonnes of explosives, carried in six shipping containers onboard MV Eugenia, went missing. The ship was bound for Bander Abbas in Iran where the consignment was to be unloaded and moved overland from Iran to Jaranz in Afghanistan since Pakistan does not permit such cargo to be sent from India over its territory. Earlier, a ship by the same name, carrying a cargo of about 300 tonnes of arms and ammunition, was escorted to Mormugao.Also, in July 2005, intelligence reports had indicated that a North Korean ship, MV Shangdok, may dock at one of the minor ports that dot the coastlines of Maharashtra and Gujarat and stepped up its vigil to avert an attack.These incidents clearly show that India’s coastal areas are porous. There are several sensitive operations including oil drilling and nuclear facilities like BARC in Mumbai and Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu. Terrorists have expanded their scope beyond the hinterland to attack on maritime activities. Maritime security forces will need to concentrate on newer threats, as these would require new approaches and new methods.  The author is a former Indian Navy officer and currently Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi