In an overnight operation that ended early on Saturday, the Mangalore police prevented a group of 97 persons — 95 of them believed to be Sri Lankan Tamil refugees — from embarking on an unsafe and illegal sea voyage in a bid to migrate to Australia.

The police have arrested 13 persons of the group who allegedly took money from the rest, promising them lucrative jobs in Australia. The Mangalore police said 84 persons, including 22 women and six children, were victims of a human trafficking bid. They have been taken into protective custody.

Fourteen of those taken into preventive custody claimed they were Indian citizens.

Tavarasa (46) of Okkaveelbeed, Tulkai in Sri Lanka who was arrested, claimed he was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the police said. The claim had to be verified, Inspector General of Police (Western Range) Prathap Reddy said. He has a Sri Lankan passport.

Most of those taken into protective custody came from 23 different camps located in Chennai, Madurai, Pudukottai, Palar Anicut, Tirunelveli, and Hosur in Tamil Nadu, the police said.

Following a tip-off that a group intended to migrate from the coast of Mangalore on Friday evening, the police held a late-night meeting and launched the operation.

Boat seized

The Karnataka Coastal Security Police seized the boat ‘Shreerajksha’ in which they were planning to migrate. It was not a seaworthy vessel, the Mangalore police said. They had purchased 6,000 litres of diesel and stocked enough food for the journey.

The vessel had GPS and was scheduled to leave in the next few days from Tannirbhavi here for Christmas Island in Australia.

The 13 persons arrested have been charged with cheating (Section 420 IPC), conspiracy (120 B) and under Section 14 of the Foreigners (Amended) Act, 2004. They had taken Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 1 lakh from the victims to arrange for their migration, Mr. Reddy told presspersons.

Barring Shahjahan of Palakkad and the Sri Lankan, all those taken into protective custody were Sri Lankan refugees, Mr. Reddy said.

Third attempt

It was their third attempt to migrate. Earlier, they tried to set sail from Kerala twice, but it was thwarted by the police there.

Mr. Reddy said police were trying to identify their names and collect other data. The Tamil Nadu police are expected to arrive here on Sunday and take them back.