TDC Security Alert: Maritime Aspects of Mumbai Terror Attacks

Tactical Defense Concepts’ Joseph Teneglia provides focus and analysis of recent terror attacks in India and gives guidance on seaborne attacks.

As the world watched the horrific terror attacks in Mumbai, reports indicate that the plot was initiated by a sea borne group of terrorists who landed via a small rubber. The following is a preliminary narrative of maritime events leading up to the attacks gleaned from a variety of Indian and US media reports.

On the evening of the attack several eyewitnesses noticed approximately 10 men in their early 20's pull up to a public dock in the city, strip off windbreakers and begin hoisting heavy backbacks out of small rubber boats. Although an elderly harbor official noticed their unusual behavior and questioned their actions he did not report the situation and was told by the men to mind his own business. The occupants then headed into the city to unleash their deadly assaults quite possibly joining others that awaited their arrival. Initial reports indicate there may have been several landings (2-3) of similar boats. However, Indian authorities later reported there was a single boat with 10 operatives operated alone. The engine a 20 HP Yamaha's reportedly had its identifying nomenclature removed.

According to unconfirmed Indian reports the terrorist group sailed from an isolated coastal area near Karachi in Pakistan without its deadly cargo of arms and ammunition that they were to use in Mumbai. The group received arms and ammunition on board a larger vessel which picked them up the following day. The larger vessel, whose ownership and identity is now the subject of an international probe headed for Indian waters. A day later, in the open sea they came across a 25 meter Indian-owned trawler, "Kuber", which they promptly commandeered. The trawler had last set out from Porbandar, 310 nautical miles from Mumbai, on November 13. It had a five-member crew. Sources believe it was most likely hijacked near the maritime boundary of India and Pakistan, where incursions by vessels on both sides are frequent. The terrorists are believed to have used the trawler for cover to make the journey to Mumbai without being detected by the Indian Coast Guard. The nondescript, fishing vessel bearing its name in the Gujarati script and a Gujarat registration number would have not have raised suspicion in a region dotted with numerous such boats. "Most of the time, we act on specific information. We rarely check such fishing trawlers with Indian flags,'' a Coast Guard officer later admitted.

Four of the fishermen who were on the trawler were probably immediately killed and thrown overboard, but its skipper, was forced to proceed towards Mumbai. The captain was brutally murdered the next day, and a terrorist took the wheel. The terrorists were reportedly trained in maritime operations and used the GPS to reach the Mumbai coast on November 26. The group, however, slowed its advance as the landing was planned after dusk. The group shifted to the smaller boats, before disembarking on their deadly rampage arriving at the city pier approximately 2100 local time, leaving their now empty boat at the dock.

Since the attacks the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have been conducting extensive searches of the waters surrounding Mumbai in an attempt to locate other vessels and evidence concerning the origin and methods of the attackers. The "Kuber" was found adrift 5-6 mile offshore with its murdered skipper but also a satellite phone and other possible evidence. The bodies of the ill fated "Kuber" crewmembers were located at sea, while clues concerning the identity of a larger mother ship continues.

In the developing story reports indicate that India received general warnings of a possible sea launched attack on Mumbai from intercepted telephone conversations apparently coming out of Pakistan. Authorities also reported that the operatives received maritime training at the Mangla Dam area in central Pakistan including a practice run into Mumbai in 2007. The marine techniques included training in boat handling, navigation, laying of mines in coastal areas, planting underwater charges on bridges, dams and ships and attacking coastal targets and vessels

TDC Analysis:

Leaving the ashore terror operations for separate analysis the brutality and success of this terrorist operation raises many questions and lessons concerning the security of ports and sea coasts around the US and the globe. The terrorist tactics themselves revealed a high level of planning and coordination and exhibited many aspects of Al Qaeda tactics which were discovered in 2002 in Afghanistan.

Israel has also experienced similar attacks from sea born terrorists deployed in small boats targeting populated areas but none were as effective as the Mumbai attacks due primarily to heavy security on the Israeli coast.

The possibility of terrorists use of mother ships to reach the US by small boat has always been a concern but as one would imagine it would be a very difficult task to detect and deter such an attack. USCG, federal state and local maritime authority initiatives such as screening of vessels and crews, random boardings, hardening of port facilities improved detection technology, awareness programs and increased patrols of critical infrastructure have vastly increased maritime security but it is nearly impossible to completely secure our numerous ports and vast coastline.

The US fortunately does not share a coastline with unfriendly neighbors as India which would greatly ease the staging of a similar operation however a covert operation cannot be ruled out. The implementation of MTSA/ISPS regulations include warning communication devices on vessels and the use of automatic tracking systems which also are designed to complicate and warn of a possible hostile takeover. But as has been said numerous times, all mariners serve as eyes and ears on the water in detecting and reporting suspicious activity, the tragic events in Mumbai remind us that we can never let our guard down.

About Tactical Defense Concepts:

Tactical Defense Concepts (TDC) was created by Joseph Tenaglia, a United States’ Naval Commander who recognized the importance and urgency of providing threat awareness and security services to the maritime sector. Tenaglia’s personal experience training thousands of maritime personnel in the government sector is the foundation for TDC’s threat awareness and security training. This experience includes developing and instructing an anti-terrorist course for Department of Defense operated and contracted vessels.

Tactical Defense Concept’s services are in compliance with:

1. The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO)
2. The International Ship and Port and Facility Security (ISPS) Code Amendments to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, 1974 (SOLAS Convention)
3. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

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