A crew-less Australian-couple owned speed-boat with some sophisticated weapons — adrift in the Arabian Sea for 52 days — washed ashore at Harihareshwar Beach in Raigad coastal district, sounding alarm bells on Thursday, a day ahead of the crowded ‘dahi-handi’ celebrations.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde promptly ordered a probe into the incident while Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has tentatively ruled out any terror angle, though questions of maritime and coastal security are being raised.
The incident suddenly revived the chilling memories of the 1993 Mumbai serial terror strikes when huge quantities of arms, ammunitions and explosives had been surreptitiously offloaded at certain small ports or beaches on the Raigad coast.
The UAE-based Neptune P2P Group said on Thursday evening that it had provided private security to the vessel ‘MY Ladyhan’ in June, which was damaged during monsoon in the Arabian Sea and the Captain declared an emergency.
The suspicious speed-boat was first noticed by some local fisherfolk on Thursday morning leading to a flutter in the sleepy coastal village and they alerted the local police who rushed there.
A quick initial search and later detailed investigations cleared the mystery of the speedboat which is stated to belong to an Australian couple, the government said subsequently in the evening.
Fadnavis informed the legislature that the speedboat, named ‘Ladyhaan’ is owned by an Australian woman Hannah Laundergun and her husband James Horbert was sailing it.
He added that the Raigad Police have recovered 3 AK-47 guns and some quantities of ammunition from the speedboat.
The Deputy Chief Minister further said that the speedboat was reportedly slated to sail from Oman to Europe, but on June 26, around 10 a.m., it suffered an engine failure at an unknown location in the sea.
The vessel crew called for help, and after 3 hours that day, a Korean warship in the vicinity had picked them up and dropped them off to Oman.
Owing to the rough seas, the Australian couple reportedly could not arrange to tow the vessel and after remaining adrift over seven weeks in the choppy Arabian Sea waters, it finally landed up Harihareshwar Beach on Thursday.
“The issue is being probed by the Raigad Police and Maharashtra Anti Terrorist Squad, and in view of past incidents, the police are put on high alert,” said Fadnavis.
A nagging question is how the sophisticated arms and ammunition landed on the vessel, whether they belonged to the owner/crew, the purpose of sailing with such weapons, especially since there are vital Indian offshore installations like the Mumbai High Fields, or if the weapons were dumped on board the speed-boat later after it was adrift and lost on the high seas.
It is also not clear whether the purported Australian owners, plus another person whose identity or nationality is not known, had informed the Indian maritime, coast guard or naval authorities of their speedboat which remained adrift in the Arabian Sea for at least 52 days, posing a potential maritime hazard.
Meanwhile, the state government has ordered a high alert in Mumbai, Raigad, Ratnagiri, Pune and other places as a precaution in view of the festivities on Friday.
The Neptune P2P Group said while the crew was rescued, the yacht could not be salvaged due to the extreme weather conditions, and the vessel was presumed sunk till this morning the company learnt that it had washed ashore in India (Raigad).
“Neptune P2P Group are working with the owner of the vessel and the Indian and UK authorities to determine the official recovery procedures of the vessel and controlled items,” said the company.
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at email@example.com)