NEW DELHI: Back in July 2015, the Indian Coast Guard was tipped off by the Kerala police about a vessel in the Arabian Sea carrying contraband, possibly drugs, possibly arms. The Coast Guard intercepted Barooki, an Iranian fishing vessel, 100 km west of Alleppey. Its crew of 10 Iranians and a Pakistani said they drifted off course on high seas.
The Kerala police searched the vessel high and low, and found a Thuraya communication set and a Pakistani ID car, but no contraband. After months of investigation, the crew were freed by a local court in March 2016 and the vessel was put up for auction, with its 16,000 litres of diesel. It was bought for scrap by a firm from Gujarat and its rusting hulk now lies anchored in Thiruvananthapuram.
Did the Kerala police miss something? That question is irking investigators again after the Coast Guard on July 30 this year intercepted another ship - Panama-registered M V Hennry - off Porbandar and found 1,446 kg of heroin with a street value `3,500 crore concealed in a mind-boggling array of secret compartments: water tanks, pipes and the diesel tank.
It was the biggest-ever drug seizure in India. A crew member had told investigators Pakistani loaders worked for four days to stuff 1,526 packets of heroin in special cavities across the boat. He also revealed that such cavities are par for the course for smuggling dhows in the Arabian Sea, and one such ship, Barooki, was indeed intercepted by the Indian authorities.
The mention of Barooki rang alarm bells in the Narcotics Control Bureau, which has now dispatched its sleuths to Thiruvananthapuram to search the dhow again. Simultaneously, a probe is underway to ascertain of the same overseas gang that operated both Barooki and Hennry.
Before interception by the Indian Coast Guard, the Barooki had set sail from Kalat in Iran. The 12 crew members – who spoke no Hindi or English – claimed they were fishermen who had drifted off course. Apart from the sat phone and the Pakistani ID card, what raised the suspicions then was the crew members’ revelation that there had been two Pakistani nationals on board but they had disembarked midway. ’
Sleuths are intrigued by the Iran-Pakistan-India links of both Hennry and Barooki. While the latter set out from the Iranian port of Kalat, Hennry steamed out of Bandar Abbas. The captain of Hennry, Suprit Tiwari works for Saiyed Ali Manori, the Iranian owner of Hennry.
Upon Manori’s instructions, Tiwari was supposed to pick up heroin consignment from Gwadar Port in Pakistan and head for Egypt. But he decided to ditch Manori as he was not happy with the `50 crore cut. He decided to head to India and sell the drug through his contacts.