SENTINELS ON THE COAST SAGA OF OPERATION SWAN

The explosives used in the 1993 Mumbai blasts were smuggled through the coast of Maharashtra and Gujarat. This grave tragedy brought to the fore the vulnerabilities of small coastal towns and adjoining seas off the coast of Maharashtra. In response, Operation Swan was launched in April 1993 as a joint operation of the Indian Navy (IN) and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) in conjunction with the respective state administration.

The primary aim of this operation was to prevent unauthorised and illegal entry of men and landing of arms, explosives and contraband along the coast of Gujarat and Maharashtra by sea and to obtain intelligence about unusual movements or activities of personnel near the coastline having a bearing on security, to facilitate immediate actions to stall attempts at violating the sea frontiers for nefarious purposes.

A Core Group having representatives of the Navy and Coast Guard as well as those from other state run security organisations like Police, Customs, Intelligence and Home departments was established for effective execution of Op Swan. This core group met at regular intervals to review and discuss various aspects regarding the operation.

The coastal surveillance was coordinated through seven detachments set up in Maharashtra and 13 detachments set up in Gujarat. Administration and Logistics support to these detachments was provided by INS Angre in Maharashtra and by INS Dwarka in Gujarat. For the purpose of ensuring layered surveillance, the assets were deployed in three distinct layers. An outer layer of 50 nm and beyond was kept under watch using IN and ICG ships and aircraft. The intermediate layer between 25 to 50 nm was covered by smaller IN and ICG patrol boats and hired trawlers. The inner layer up to 12 nm was jointly patrolled by IN, Customs and Police personnel using hired trawlers.

Though the task was well defined, the execution through small teams posed many challenges. The endurance of CG Interceptor Craft was about four to six hours and the night patrolling capabilities were limited view nonavailability of vital navigational equipment and night vision devices. The operations of the hired boats were restricted to fair weather up to five to six miles. There was virtual suspension of patrolling in monsoons/rough weather conditions. Use of hired trawlers was also limited by depth considerations at some sites. In view of non-availability of infrastructure in some areas along the coast, dedicated patrolling was not undertaken. The quantum of traffic of small vessels in minor ports posed another major challenge. There were hundreds of fishing boats and dhows operating from minor ports of Maharashtra and Gujarat on a daily basis. These dhows are engaged in traditional trade with Gulf and African countries. Notwithstanding these challenges, the small teams at each detachment conducted regular surveillance operations, defying all material and weather limitations. Information on movement of dhows was taken from the Port authorities regularly and a credible intelligence base was developed over a period of time to identify and thwart nefarious persons. Over a period of time, Op Swan played a significant role in strengthening the security cordon in the coastal approach areas of Maharashtra and Gujarat.

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