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How unsafe are our seas?

December 9, 2008
Commodore R S Vasan (retired), a former naval officer and head of Strategy and Security Studies at the Center for Asia Studies at Chennai, assesses the maritime dimensions of the Mumbai terror attacks

It has now been confirmed that an inflatable boat found in Colaba, south Mumbai, was the one the terrorists used to come ashore and unleash terror in Mumbai.

With the conclusion of Operation Cyclone, this analysis is aimed at examining the preparedness of our maritime forces and other security agencies, which have a major role in thwarting such attacks.

The naval authorities at Mumbai initially said that the ingress of the terrorists by boat was not substantiated. However, it was clear by the end of the day that the terrorists did use the sea route. The boat was abandoned and the terrorists fanned out towards their targets.

The naval ships of the Indian Navy's prized Western fleet and the dockyard facilities are close to the terrorists's landing point. The private shipping yards, some of which are engaged in building/repairing modern warships, are located adjacent to the naval facilities.

The Indian Navy's action/perception: In a media interview on November 25, the commander-in-chief of the Western Naval Command indicated that both the naval and the Coast Guard's surface and air units were deployed to locate the terrorists's mothership. If even a fraction of these very forces were deployed in a coordinated manner earlier, based on the wonderful intelligence provided, there would have been a good chance of thwarting the attack.

Image: A rocket is fired from the Indian Navy's destroyer INS Mumbai during a naval exercise off the western coast of India, March 8, 2004. Photograph: Sebastian D'Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

Also see: On the trail of the terror boat

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