Kerala coast with large number of fishing vessels vulnerable to such activities
The Customs Department has said that it saw a possible resurgence of the 1980s’ trend to smuggle gold and other contraband into the country via sea on fishing boats.

Commissioner of Customs (Preventive) Sumit Kumar told The Hindu here on Saturday that the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) had seized 23.1 kg of gold from a beached boat on the Tamil Nadu coast. The detection had alerted the Customs to a mode of smuggling that it thought had been inactive for long. The contraband had come from Sri Lanka and was possibly transferred to the fishing boat on the high seas from a foreign mother ship. It was impossible to know how many such gold cargo boats had landed on the coast thus.

The trend did not augur well for national security. (The Mumbai underworld had built itself in the 1970s by smuggling gold into the mainland from neighbouring nations via sea. It had later used the same sea routes to bring in arms and explosives into Maharashtra before the first Mumbai blasts in 1993). Kerala with its 600 km coastline and a large number of fishing vessels was particularly vulnerable.

There had been a startling rise in the amount of gold smuggled into Kerala since the Union government hiked its import duty in 2014. The contraband was ferried into the State mostly by plane. Carriers brought gold in small amounts concealed on their person. For more significant quantities, the Customs feared, that smugglers could lean more on the sea route if not deterred successfully.

Hence, the agency has proposed to the Centre, which recently extended Customs jurisdiction from 45 to 200 nautical miles into the sea, to make available a surveillance aircraft, high-end observation drones, and armed fast patrol vessels to augment its marine enforcement activities.

It has also proposed the raising of a marine customs wing and station in Thiruvananthapuram and two comparable units in Lakshadweep.