02/Sep/2014 - Last News Update: 07:03

High alert on India's water borders

Category: World

Published: 29th Apr 2010 09:51:27

The 2008 attacks in Mumbai (Bombay) were carried out by gunmen who travelled by boat from Karachi on Pakistan's southern coast. The BBC's Soutik Biswas went to the water border in the state of Gujarat to find out how India is securing its sea frontier.

Deep inside a creek close to India's western border with Pakistan, speedboat-borne commandos are firing at targets propped up in a mangrove.

It seems an unusual place for target practice - the middle of a vast, choppy creek, surrounded by water and dotted with mangroves and marshes.

We are close to Sir Creek which lies between India's western Gujarat state and the southern Pakistani province of Sindh. It has been a point of contention in the long-running dispute between the testy neighbours.

India says the creek boundary should be in the middle of the 68km (42-mile) estuary. Pakistan says the border should lie on the south-east bank.

But, arguments aside, considering that the 2008 Mumbai attacks were mounted by men who arrived by boat from Karachi, Indian security forces are taking no chances with the country's main water borders.

'Difficult terrain'

A handpicked team of 50 soldiers from the paramilitary Border Security Forces (BSF) have now been trained as a crack commando outfit called the Creek Crocodile Commandos to secure the area.

They provide the much-needed muscle to the troops' efforts to bolster surveillance of the sensitive water borders in the creeks.

With more than a dozen border outposts, including a few "floating border outposts" housed in small ships patrolling the creek, and now the commandos, the water borders are guarded round the clock.

"It is difficult terrain to patrol, but we take no chances with our multi-layered, heightened security," says BSF Commandant Pushpendrasinh Rathore.

I travelled into the network of creeks with Commandant Rathore and his commandos to have a look at the terrain and the challenges troops face in securing the waters.

In Gujarat's Kutch area, some 10 creeks open up into the Arabian Sea. They occupy an area of more than 4,000 sq km (2,500 sq miles) and are up to 17m (50-feet) deep.

Navigating the creeks even on speedboats and marine rafts can be difficult.

The waters turn very choppy during high tide - our speedboat rode the waves in what was sometimes a gut-wrenching and turbulent ride. At one point the boat nearly ran aground as water levels thinned out in the middle of the creek.

That is not all. Shifting sandbars change the course of channels. Sinking sand makes it difficult to patrol the marshes. It is easy for the "enemy" to infiltrate such a vast area dotted with mangroves, channels and mud flats.

So it is a minor miracle that there is a permanent security outpost in the middle of a creek, nestling in a high outcrop of land in a marsh.

The Sawla Peer outpost where more than a dozen soldiers live is not for the faint-hearted - during high tide, water inundates the marsh and the place is infested by the highly venomous Russell's viper.

Soldiers posted on the marsh said they had killed a nest of 35 vipers the day before we arrived. Snakes pose a clear danger - anti-venom is kept at hand, and mongrel dogs have been shipped in from the mainland and set free to spot snakes.

"The dogs always bark when they spot the snakes. So we can go out and kill them. They have now begun eating the snakes too," says a soldier.

Disputed waters

Around midday, we reach Sir Creek, a 68km-long channel.

India regards the middle of the channel as the "international border". A speck on the horizon is an outpost of the Pakistan Marines, who patrol their waters. A Pakistani fishing boat is sailing at a distance.

For all the dispute around the channel, there has been no incident in the creek involving the two countries.

The only time it was in the news was in 1991 when a Pakistani surveillance aircraft flying over the creek was shot down by the Indian air force. India said the plane had strayed into its airspace.

On the way back to the mainland in Koteswar straddling the Kori creek, we spot an Indian fishing boat which has strayed into the waters and is gently admonished and turned back.

Since last October, at least 12 Pakistani nationals - who say they are fishermen - have been arrested in the creeks, boats and other equipment have also been seized. Of these, seven Pakistanis were held some 30 nautical miles inside Sir Creek. They were all handed over to the police.

Commandant Rathore is not complacent: "We have to keep a constant vigil. Who would have thought that Mumbai would be attacked by men coming in by boat?"

BBC News External Link Show Citation

Latest News

Harvard Citation

BBC News, 2010. High alert on India's water borders [Online] (Updated 29th Apr 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/55948/High-alert-on-Indias-water-borders [Accessed 2nd Sep 2014]

News In Other Categories

  • Bristol Academy extends reach overseas with first foreign students

    With the doors to its brand new £1million training centre officially open, one of the UK's leading apprentice training providers, Bristol based S&B Automotive Academy, is showcasing its world-class facilities by launching a series of foreign student exchanges for the first time in its 41-year history. To get a flavour of what life is like as an apprentice in the UK, the Academy hosted 16 apprentice engineers and bus drivers from the G9 Automotive College in Hamburg, Germany, as part of a Europe-wide vocational training initiative called the ‘Leonardo Programme’ with support from the European Social Fund. In a reciprocal arrangement, S&B will be sending nine apprentices to Germany during February 2012 so that they can get an appreciation of life in the automotive industry on the Continent. A further three German exchange groups are being planned for next year. Designed to assist the development of vocational skills and training across Europe, including work placements for trainees, the Leonardo Programme has a budget of €1.75bn, which is helping to encourage UK organisations to work with their counterparts abroad. In what is expected to be another challenging year for employers in the UK automotive sector, S&B’s Chief Executive, Jon Winter, claims that the exchange initiative will bring many benefits to the Academy and its apprentices: “In a world of global automotive brands, it’s important for our learners to understand the international context of the industry they have chosen to make their career. This new exchange programme will enable apprentices and Academy staff alike to achieve a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the automotive arena in Europe. With the Academy’s influence also extending to the USA and Asia, there’s every possibility that this initiative could move further afield in the future.” Continued Winter: “The need for skilled technicians across the world is on the increase and we actively encourage our apprentices to look at broader horizons during their training. Many of them have already learned the phrase ‘Vorsprung durch Gelehrtheit’, quite simply, ‘Advancement through learning.” In the 2010/11 academic year, S&B doubled the number of successful Apprenticeships over the previous year with some 350 apprentices graduating from the Academy. At the same time, achievement levels reached an all-time high with an overall success rate of 85%. For those learners on the Advanced Apprenticeship three-year programme, success rates were even higher, at over 98%. PHOTO CAPTION: As part of their exchange visit, S&B Automotive Academy arranged for the German apprentices to visit Hampshire bus operator, Bluestar, at its Barton Park depot. The students are pictured with S&B’s Andy West (3rd right) and Steve Prewett, Bluestar’s Area Engineering Manager (2nd right). Ends http://www.sandbaa.com
  • Man dies in Carryduff house fire

    A man has died in a house fire in Carryduff, on the outskirts of Belfast.
  • Nato Summit Wales set to cause traffic congestion

    World leaders are due to start arriving in Wales later for the Nato summit in Newport - with a warning of an increase in traffic disruption.
  • Electromagnetic Field: Can geeks get kids into science?

    The government is desperate to get more young people interested in scientific subjects. Could a self-proclaimed "geek festival" held last weekend in Milton Keynes hold the answer?
  • Musician Ben Watt makes Samuel Johnson non-fiction list

    Everything But The Girl musician Ben Watt has been announced as part of the 15-strong longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.
  • Boris Island airport plan rejected

    A plan for an island airport in the Thames estuary has been rejected by a commission looking into the UK's airport needs.