M A I N   N E W S

Gaping holes in coastal security
Ajay Banerjee/Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

New Delhi/Mumbai, August 10
Three merchant ships, which came undetected —two of them actually reached the Juhu beach and one sunk off the coast of Mumbai, spilling sticky oil into the sea — have exposed the government’s hollow claims of having strengthened the ‘coastal security’ following the 26/11 terror attacks.

Shockingly, it has now come to light that none of the critical surveillance equipment to keep sea vigil has been installed. Worse, there’s no coordination between agencies concerned and it will take nearly a year for the intelligence-gathering network and communication-sharing channels to be fully functional.

Preliminary inquiry shows that ships from the Indian Navy, the Coast Guard and the Marine Police of the state government noticed the MT Pavit drifting towards Mumbai for more than 12 hours but did nothing till it ran aground on the Juhu beach on July 31. "The ship was adrift in the Indian waters for 100 hours...We will be looking into all aspects of the matter," Director General of Shipping S B Agnihotri told reporters here. Juhu police station officials had spotted the ship coming dangerously close to the shore. "The ship was visible to constables on patrol from the Juhu police station for more than 12 hours," says a police official.

After the local police inspector was informed, the message was shunted to different police stations in the vicinity before Commissioner of Police Arup Patnaik got to know about it. By the time Patnaik had alerted the top brass of the Coast Guard in Mumbai, the MT Pavit had already run aground, say sources.

The Mumbai police, however, insists that responsibility for the incident rested with the Navy and the Coast Guard alone.

According to Coast Guard officials, sharing of information between the three agencies responsible for coastal security is fraught with jurisdictional hurdles. "Sharing of information happens through the chain of command and not all details are shared with everyone," says a CG official.

Before Pavit, another abandoned ship MV Wisdom had mysteriously reached the Juhu beach. On August 4, a cargo vessel MV Rak sank off Mumbai coast, spilling dangerous oil into the sea.

Peeved at these instances of breaches, Defence Minister AK Antony today reviewed coastal security arrangements and asked officials to prevent recurrence of such incidents in future.

At the meeting, attended by Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma and DG Coast Guard Vice-Admiral Anil Chopra, it was revealed that the much-talked about coastal radars and the automated identification system (AIS) to electronically track incoming ships and boats have not been installed.

Another post-26/11 project, the national command control communication and intelligence network okayed in April 2009 would only be ready by next year.





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