Staff Reporter

Kochi: The Navy handed over eight Somali nationals captured by it off the Kavaratti coast of Lakshadweep to the Harbour police here on Saturday.

The Navy's offshore patrol vessel INS Sujata spotted the Somalis on a boat and took them into custody about 100 km south of Kavaratti on Friday during a combing and sanitising operation.

The Harbour police identified the arrested as Abdullahi, 22, Saeed, 25, Mahad, 23, Abdi, 29, Gurey, 25, Endu, 31, Abbas, 35, and Farhan, 21. They were taken to General Hospital, Ernakulam, for a detailed medical examination.

On Thursday, the Minicoy police had recorded the arrest of another three Somali nationals after local fishermen found them in an unconscious state at the northern end of the island. On the latest arrests, Vice-Admiral K.N. Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command, said: “Currently, we can't say they are pirates … But they had no business being there [near Kavaratti].”

Near-death

He was replying to queries from presspersons on the sidelines of a passing-out ceremony at the Naval Base here on Sunday. He said the Somalis, found adrift on a boat, had been starving and were “almost near death.”

“They [the Somalis] are saying that their mother ship sank and they were sent adrift. Now, investigations will prove what they are; what they were actually doing there; and how come they survived for more than 20 days,” Vice-Admiral Sushil said.

The Vice-Admiral said the pirates had earlier shifted their operations to the Mauritian and the Seychelles coast after being driven away from the Gulf of Aden. About the first group of three Somalis arrested by the Minicoy police, he said: “As per the statements they gave, they had an OBM [‘outboard motor' on their boat], which was not found. One chap is missing. They are saying he was dead and they threw him out. Unless we corroborate these things, we are not able to say anything.”

The Navy, the Coast Guard and the Lakshadweep Police had embarked on an intense aerial and ship-based search operation in the waters off the Lakshadweep group of islands on Wednesday after a suspicious boat was sighted around five kilometres off the Minicoy Island at 5 pm. that day. The arrest of three Somalis in Minicoy took place a day later.