We alerted officials of suspected terror activities: fishermen


Mumbai : The attack in Mumbai, made by terrorists who took the sea route to sneak into the city, could have been averted if officials had heeded fishermen’s alerts, community leaders said Sunday.

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Fishermen of Maharashtra and neighbouring Gujarat had passed on the first intelligence that terrorists could be using the unguarded sea routes to land arms, ammunitions and explosives, and had given all details in a letter to the Maharashtra government and law-enforcing authorities, community leaders said.

Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil said Saturday that the terrorists had come by the Arabian Sea route, landed their arms at Colaba’s Sassoon Dock – the hub of fishing activity in south Mumbai – before launching the terror attacks in a three-km radius Wednesday night.

Damodar Tandel, president of the Akhil Maharashtra Machhimar Kriti Samiti (AMMKS – an organisation of Maharashtra fishermen), said that the 750-km long Maharashtra coast has 184 big and small ports, including 20 in Mumbai alone.

“There are only six boats, three each of the Coast Guard and the state police, to guard such a huge area in which there is a daily movement of over 20,000 big and small fishing boats and trawlers, excluding the huge ships and other private vessels,” he explained.

In addition, nearly 900 fishing boats with some 7,500 fishermen come to Mumbai to sell their catch daily .

Devabhai Bhagat, a fishermen’s leader from Gujarat, told IANS by telephone that he had passed on the information available with him to the Gujarat government and also to Damodar Tandel.

Over the past few months, some unscrupulous elements had sneaked into the fishing business by purchasing at least half a dozen boats with Gujarat maritime registration, Bhagat said.

Information gathered from the fishing community revealed that there are at least 200 Bangladeshis posing as Indians who are engaged in the trade, the two leaders said.

They said that in the given situation, it was easy to quietly smuggle in small quantities of weapons or RDX daily without being spotted by authorities.

Both Tandel and Bhagat demanded that the government must immediately cancel the registration of the Gujarat fishing boats that have been permitted to conduct business in Maharashtra and also verify the antecedents of the “suspect” fishermen.

They have also submitted a few names to authorities but have not received any concrete response, Tandel added.

The terrorists, numbering at least 11, landed by rubber dinghy at Sassoon Docks Wednesday night and started firing and hurling grenades at 13 places in the city. They also took hostages at two five-star hotels and a Jewish centre.

The Indian commandos killed 10 of them and captured one and ended their siege Saturday morning, but by then at least 183 people were killed, including 22 foreigners, and 295 were injured.

Meanwhile, the investigating authorities have learnt that the terrorists had planned to return to Pakistan after executing their plans to eliminate 5,000 people in Mumbai.

They had planned to hold thousands of commuters as hostages at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, one of the main railway stations here. However, the plan was foiled by the timely action of the security agencies as well as the railway staff at the station, formerly named Victoria Terminus.

RDX and other arms and ammunition used in the March 12, 1993, serial blasts here – which claimed 257 lives – too had been smuggled through the sea route weeks before the strike.

The explosives were transported by road from the tiny fishing ports in Raigad and Ratnagiri districts to Mumbai in batches.