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Coastal Security: 8 Years After 26/11 Terror Attacks, Is Mumbai Safe?

Police officers sit near the Gateway of India in Mumbai (Image only for representational purpose)/Reuters

Police officers sit near the Gateway of India in Mumbai (Image only for representational purpose)/Reuters

Eight years ago, the terror attack that rocked the city of Mumbai had brought the maximum city to a standstill as ten militants caused mayhem in South Mumbai for 60 odd hours.

Mumbai: In November 2015, five teams- each comprising over half a dozen men and armed with explosives- sneaked into Mumbai through various points along the city's coastline. Quite like the Lashkar-e-Taiba operatives who entered in 2008 on November 26. Similar breaches were made in the month of May and November in 2016, but thankfully for the citizens of Mumbai, these were personnel from Coast guard and other security forces performing a maritime security exercise called 'Sagar Kavach'.

The fact that as many as five teams were able to make their way in successfully has been worrying.

Post the attack of 26/11 in Mumbai, 'Sagar Kavach' was introduced as a maritime security exercise and is held every year twice since 2009. Coast guard, Indian Navy, Marine wing of state or city police and other agencies responsible of coastal security are involved in the operation. Two teams, Red (dummy militants) and Blue (security forces) are made. Red team is tasked with breaching the security around the coast and the blue teams have to spot the dummy militants and stop them. The exercise is being conducted in all the states with a coastal line. In the month of November the exercise was conducted in Maharashtra and Goa.

A senior official from coast guard said that the number of personnel in each team varies according to the task that they have been asked to complete. “For example, a red team member might be given dummy explosives and then he is asked to go out and try to breach the security accordingly when he deems that it is possible to do so. It helps in knowing the loopholes,” added the officer.

A source from the Indian Coast Guard (Western Region) confirmed that certain number of Red teams did breach the security cover of the Blue teams. Another senior officer from the agency said, “Breaches are supposed to take place as it makes the various agencies aware of the gaps in security which should be filled.” Coast guard officials claim that the breaches are decreasing with time, and the new loop holes which are spotted are being addressed.

A Navy spokesperson said, “Sagar Kavach is conducted to check the loop holes in the coastal security. This time we reduced the intelligence which is generally provided to the blue team. We made it extremely difficult for them.”

He further added that colour coding of the fishing boats which was suggested by the security agencies have been implemented after the notification was issued. “In Gujarat they have a standard colour, but in Maharashtra, the colour coding is done district wise. This has been done to make it difficult for the terror forces to disguise themselves as fishermen even if they try to sneak in with a particular colour skinned boat. Fishermen were initially against it but they have now agreed to follow the notification,” said the spokesperson.

Eight years have passed since Mumbai and the country experienced the deadliest terror attack in the history of the nation. The maximum city was brought to a standstill as ten militants caused mayhem in South Mumbai for 60 odd hours.

Mumbai Police on the other hand claimed that 18 boats are currently patrolling along the coastline of the city. “Patrolling is being done every day from last one year. Licensed police personnel operate these boats and the licenses are issued under Inland vessels act. Operational officers are from the coastal police stations from the port zone. Goa ship yard is maintaining these boats,” said a senior officer from Mumbai police.

Although claims of regular patrolling are being made by the force, fishermen at Badhwar Park, from where the ten terrorists entered on November 26 in 2008, claim that they have hardly seen the Marine police patrolling in the area. “Only when there is some VIP movement in the area, we have seen patrols being done,” claimed a fisherman.

When CNN-News18 visited the spot, it was found that there was only one watch tower at the jetty with a single constable keeping his guard looking towards the main road, next to it. Even the shed where coupons are handed over to the fishermen leaving from the jetty and then checked when they come back, did not have police presence and a single security guard from a security agency sat there, who did not seem to have any authority to take any action.

Damodar Tandel, President, Akhil Maharashtra Machchimar Kriti Samiti, who also stays at Badhwar Park, said that there were several loop holes in the security provided at the spot and the issue should be addressed. “If ten people are leaving from the spot by a boat to catch fish and terrorists kill five of them and board the same boat along with the other five fishermen (after threatening them), will the person sitting at the shed handing out the coupon remember the faces? Will he be in any position to take any action?” asked a fisherman.

Commodore Uday Bhaskar, Defense expert , said, “When I visited Mumbai last year, the police was having many issues in making the security boats work along the coastline. It is difficult for me to imagine that the issues have been resolved. Regular assessment is important to know that if patrolling is being done then what is the pattern that the patrolling team is noticing. More arrests should be made by the police related to smuggling as Mumbai coastline has got a history of criminal activities.”

Maharashtra Police came up with force one post 26/11 attack, Director General of Police (Maharashtra), Satish Mathur, said that Force One personnel carry out extremely tough training sessions.

“Many of the central forces have now approached us to rope them in during the training of Force one. The force has got quick reaction time and is one of the best in the state. Marine police is doing patrolling on a daily basis at the spots where it is required. Sometimes it also depends on the depth of the water therefore the patrolling boats might not be visible to the fishermen as they patrol further in the deep water,” he added.

The question which now arises is that are the security forces which are claiming to be potent, ready to handle any threat to the coastline, or the claims which are being made by the fishermen need to cause some worry?
first published:November 26, 2016, 07:47 IST