The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) on Saturday seized a merchant vessel carrying around 1,500 kg of heroin, valued at around Rs3,500 crore, off the Gujarat coast near Porbandar, in what could be the largest single haul of narcotics by the Coast Guard.
The vessel was intercepted by ICG ship 'Samudra Pavak' as it was sailing towards Alang shipyard in Bhavnagar and was brought to Porbandar on Sunday.
Eight persons, all Indians, who were on the Panama-registered vessel, 'MV Hennry,' have been taken into custody. A joint team of the Navy, the Coast Guard, police and customs intelligence officers is currently interrogating the crew.
The ship, coming from Dubai, was anchored in Karachi port for two days for loading the consignment and then headed to Alang ship breaking yard in Bhavnagar, where the consignment was to be offloaded.
Two crew members, one from Iran and the other from Pakistan are believed to have got off the ship at Karachi port.
The ship, built in 1982, was meant be dismantled at the Alang ship breaking yard.
The crew members have not yet revealed any specific location from where the ship originally set sail and Coast Guard officers said they are in contact with their counterparts in Pakistan.
The ship was apprehended after the Coast Guard received intelligence inputs regarding the unusual movement of a ship about 210 miles off the Gujarat coast, beyond Indian waters.
In the process, the Coast Guard vessels intercepted some other merchant vessels as well before a Dornier aircraft patrolling the Gulf of Khambhat, cited a vessel heading towards Bhavnagar.
"On verification it was found that no such vessel was expected at Bhavnagar. Hence, it was intercepted by the coast guard. The vessel was found transmitting its identity on wireless," a coast guard official said.
The vessel, on a search of earlier voyages on maritime traffic website, was found to have no valid documents.
Also, according to the Coast Guard, the name of the ship, which had earlier gone on voyages as Al Sadiq, seems to have changed its identity several times since as the name 'Henry' and 'Prince- 2' were found scribbled on it in paint.
"Captain of the ship, Suprik Tiwary, said that as the ship was heading for demolition at Alang, they did not carry any documents," according to the coast guard official.
The captain and the crew had initially denied that they were carrying any narcotics but sustained interrogation led to the recovery of 1,500 kg of heroin from the ship.
The heroin was kept in plastic bags hidden in a specially-made compartment in the water tank of the vessel, sources said.
Coast guard had, in similar operations, seized 140 kg heroin worth Rs28 crore in April 2015 from a boat called Fiza, about 150 nautical miles off Porbandar coast. Indian officials had then arrested eight Pakistani sailors and recovered satellite phones from them.