Smuggling Nuclear Material through Andamans?
Well! Here’s the long & the short of it all for you all to comprehend the entire disquieting episode…
After the international suspense thriller in June over the movements of the North Korean cargo ship Kang Nam- I ended with the freighter beating a retreat and returning home, an equally intriguing case has emerged off the southern coast of India in the Bay of Bengal.
Another North Korean vessel, the Mu San, is currently in the custody of the Indian authorities after it dropped anchor without permission at Hut Bay, Little Andaman in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on August 6.
If the case of Kang Nam I was curious, the Mu San has its own mysteries that are deepening by the day. When the ship first approached Andaman and Nicobar, the Indian Coast Guard sent an aircraft overhead to communicate, but the North Koreans refused to respond.
A Coast Guard ship then tailed it and found that the 39 North Korean sailors on board were unwilling to halt. On being approached, the Mu San attempted to escape and the Indian Coast Guard fired in the air. After an overwrought six-hour chase, the ship finally "obeyed" and was dragged to the city of Port Blair, the capital of the Island territory, for inspection.
According to the captured sailors, the ship was carrying 3.3 lakhs gunny bags of sugar weighing 16,500 kilograms, bound for Iraq - a fact confirmed by searching its contents. One theory being bandied about is that the craft decided to dock in India for purely commercial reasons after learning that New Delhi had just announced zero import duties on sugar, a commodity that has fallen short this year due to a failed crop. Sugar as merchandise on the high seas is a seemingly inoffensive mission, except that the ship's crew frequently changed their versions when interrogated.
The claim that they came to make a quick killing on eased tariffs did not dovetail with the other assertion of the ship's captain that they changed direction towards the Andaman Islands because of "mechanical failure". Moreover, the other stops the vessel made along the way were erratic and suspicious.
The Indian Coast Guard and the Andaman & Nicobar Police officials learned that M V Mu San docked unscheduled in Singapore without following the routine passport stamping procedure. Investigators also say that the same ship had in the past "made several voyages between North Korea and China without maintaining proper records".
As North Korea's nuclear program - which is now a matter of global concern and subject to United Nations sanctions - has been a beneficiary of Chinese technology and material transfer, India's military and civilian intelligence agencies rushed to Port Blair where the Mu San was being held. A team of two nuclear scientists from the Kalpakam Nuclear Power Station carried out a preliminary investigation of the ship and ruled out the existence of any chemical, biological, radioactive and nuclear traces on board the vessel.
Subsequently, as per the official communications, M V Mu San was escorted by the Indian Coast Guard from Port Blair to Kakinada in Andhra Pradesh on 22nd August, 2009. The cargo on board the suspect North Korean vessel, MV Mu San was off loaded there on Sunday and searched for any suspect material onboard. It has been heard that the central security agencies and nuclear scientists will conduct a thorough investigation to check if the ship is carrying any radioactive and nuclear material. Apart from that, the 39-member crew of the ship and its North Korean captain, Yun Jong Sun, would be questioned by the authorities at the port itself.
The vessel from Pyongyang has raised eyebrows for a number of reasons. Firstly, there are fears that it may contain traces of chemical or radio active material and secondly another point of contention is the fact that there is a North Korean government official onboard, which prompts questions on the credibility of the claim that the ship is a merchant vessel.
Another critical question which needs to be answered is why were there conflicting claims made by the crew on their entry to different international ports, which did not corroborate with their passports. The MV Mu San is likely to be booked under the Indian Maritime Act for illegally entering in to the Indian waters.
According to various news sources, the Union Home Ministry, Ministry of Defence and External Affairs Ministry are coordinating with each other to finalize procedure in this regard.
Well, friends, we will have to wait until the vehemently unsettling mystery unfolds, finally, hopefully in a week’s time or so. But the most fundamental million dollar question that keeps haunting me, remains to be answered and that is–--
What helped an outlandish foreign vessel succeed in intruding the supposedly well-guarded Andaman Sea and dropping anchor within miles of Hut Bay at the Little Andaman Island which is merely 120 kilometers away down South from the headquarters of the unified Andaman & Nicobar Command of the Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Coast Guard and the Indian Air Force at Port Blair, the capital of the A & N Islands, and about the same distance North from the mighty Air Force station at Car Nicobar?
Is anyone listening…??