Pakistani terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba’s (LET) heinous 26 November 2008 attack on Mumbai by the sea route without being detected, exposed many weaknesses and lacunae in India’s coastal security. The attack shook the government into realising the urgent need to greatly tighten the security of India’s long coastline of 7,600 kms including its island territories and 2,000,000 square kms of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The then Union Minister for Home Affairs was summarily changed and a beginning was made by the Ministries of Defence and Home Affairs, having meetings to discuss and decide on long overdue raising/enhancing coastal police, providing them equipment, stepping up coastal patrolling, joint tactical exercises and multi-dimensional expeditions to explore and familiarise armed forces personnel with stretches of India’s vast seaboard.
On 22-23 January 2019, the Indian Navy coordinated the largest ever coastal defence exercise off the Indian coast, codenamed Sea Vigil. The first ever of its kind, this exercise was undertaken along the entire 7516.6 km coastline and India’s EEZ, involving all nine coastal states and four union territories along with all maritime stakeholders and facilitated by the Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs, Shipping, Petroleum and Natural Gas, Fisheries, Customs, state governments and other agencies of centre/state as well as the fishing and coastal communities. The scale of the exercise was unprecedented in terms of the geographical extent, the number of stakeholders involved, the number of units deployed, and in terms of the objectives to be met.
Such an exercise is necessary because over the ten years since 26/11, while the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have been keeping themselves well prepared, that has not been so with all the other ministries/departments involved.
Some examples of breaches/lacunae in maritime/coastal security were:
• In 2011, three massive vessels entered Mumbai, including a container ship loaded with 7025 tonnes of deadweight and another containing 1000 tonnes of materials, which escaped the huge set up of surveillance.
• Marine police have not been fully integrated in the system.
• The National Committee on Strengthening Maritime and Coastal Security (NCSMCS) with Cabinet Secretary at the helm, established to review important matters pertaining to coastal security and for effective centre-state coordination, is reportedly merely an ad-hoc arrangement, which has not been backed by the enactment of the Coastal Security Bill.
• Some years ago, when a Coast Guard team during a security exercise enacted the entry of the 26/11 Pakistani terrorists from the sea opposite Badhwar Park, it succeeded, ie they entered and proceeded ahead undetected/unchallenged.
At least two Pakistani terrorist groups are reportedly actively preparing for more attacks on sea/by sea. In the past year, reportedly, Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) and LeT are training their cadres in swimming, deep diving, survival in water etc and building their sea strike capabilities. Their aim to revert to sea based attacks is not surprising, particularly so because of the frustration and desperation they and their terror planner Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) have been suffering from following major reverses faced by them in Jammu and Kashmir.
Some reported details citing intelligence inputs are that LeT’s front organisations, including Falah-e-InsaniyatFoundation, Al Dawa Water Rescue, Life Line Water Rescue and Rescue Mili Foundation have been training recruits in deep water diving techniques at swimming pools and canals at Sheikhpura, Lahore and Faisalabad in Pakistan’s Punjab. The training also includes down proofing, which involves the swimmer keeping afloat while his hands and feet are tied. Sophisticated equipment like neoprene suits, weight belts, open-air circuit breathing apparatus and Gemini or Zodiac dinghies are being used. Also included is motivation of suicide bombers to strike by approaching from the sea and inland water channels. The JeM training its cadres in Pakistan’s Bahawalpur area, has been projecting “Samundari (sea-based) jihad” as more sacred than land jihad and have included the Navy, Coast Guard and India’s “strategic assets” in their target list. It may be recalled that in 2000 CE, 17 US Navy sailors were killed when al Qaeda terrorists rammed an explosives laden boat into the destroyer USS Cole when it was refuelling at the port of Aden in Yemen.