CHOPPER SEARCH & COMMANDO CHASE IN RIVER RESCUE 

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By OUR BUREAU
  • Published 18.06.02
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Nine fishermen abducted by pirates were rescued today morning in a joint commando-police operation that ended a 72-hour hostage drama. The rescue followed a helicopter search to locate the pirates in the dense riverine forests close to the international border. Coast Guard, Border Security Force and West Bengal Police personnel swooped down on Shuktara, the trawler the pirates had hijacked late on Thursday, to free the hostages. None of those abducted was hurt in the operation that also enlisted the help of local fishermen, who assisted the team with their knowledge of the difficult terrain. But not a single pirate could be arrested, said the police, explaining that the criminals took advantage of the indeterminate border on water and fled towards the Bangladeshi island, Talpatti. Lauding the security personnel for a "splendid job carried out in very adverse circumstances", minister-in-charge of Sunderbans' affairs Kanti Ganguly said: "They (pirates) may have gone to Bangladesh." The police said Shuktara is one of the three trawlers that were abducted on Thursday night, the other two being Dinesh-Putul and Ma. Thirty-one fishermen were abducted, of which nine were rescued today. The trawlers were hijacked near Patharpratima, a junction where various distributaries of the Hooghly run into the Bay of Bengal, the police said. The remaining 22 fishermen were freed on Friday, a few hours after they were abducted. The fishermen were sent to the shore by their abductors in a trawler and they alerted the administration to the abduction and also the ransom of Rs 4 lakh demanded by the pirates. The nine who were kept back were held on Kendo island. On receiving the news of the abduction, top officials of the South 24-Parganas police met to formulate a strategy. At Friday's meeting, led by district superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly, it was decided that the Coast Guard and the BSF would be included to launch a joint combing operation to study the terrain prior to the rescue mission. The operation was monitored by Kanti Ganguly, the Sundarbans development affairs minister and MLA from Patharpratima. Before starting the operation, the three agencies got in touch with local fishermen, asking them for information they thought would help in facilitating the rescue. The next step involved pressing speedboats and helicopters into service. The combing operation began on Friday with several surveys being carried out from helicopters. None, however, proved successful. Finally, it was the trawlers that helped achieve a breakthrough. "Fitted with antennae to intercept radio messages, around 25 of them fanned into the area, entering creeks and distributaries of the Hooghly, trying to catch interactions between the pirates," said inspector-general of police (law and order) Chayan Mukherjee. After several attempts to locate the hideout of the pirates, a message gave a hint of their den. Tracing the message, the security personnel reached a group of islands, including Kendo, Mayadweep and Baghmara, a few metres from the India-Bangladesh border. The team then swooped down on the pirates. What ensued was a gunbattle and while the captives were rescued, the pirates fled in the direction of the international border.