India Coast Guard video sparks Pakistan boat controversy

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India was forced on Wednesday to deny it deliberately blew up a Pakistani fishing boat after video was released showing a coast guard official apparently boasting about ordering the vessel's destruction.

The official's apparent claim has reignited controversy about the Dec 31 incident, which killed four Pakistani men and led to a flare-up in tensions between the two neighbours.

India has always maintained that the crew from near the Pakistani port city of Karachi blew up their own boat while trying to escape from the navy - a claim Pakistan rejects.

Footage obtained by the Indian Express newspaper and made available on YouTube showed Coast Guard Deputy Inspector General BK Loshali speaking about the incident at a function on Monday.

"I hope you remember 31st December night," he says in halting English after telling the audience he plans to depart from a prepared speech.

"We blew off the Pakistan... I told at night, blow the boat off. We don't want to serve them biryani," Loshali says, referring to an Indian rice dish.

Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar called Loshali's comments "a case of indiscipline" and said the government stood by its earlier statement on the sequence of events.

"We will take action against the person if required... after making a proper inquiry," he said at a press conference.

Loshali said that his comments were misconstrued and that he was not in charge of the operation.

"I have not made this statement, however, I had made a statement that anti-national elements do not need to be served biryani," he said in written comments on Wednesday.

At the time of the incident India said that its Coast Guard ships and aircraft had tried to intercept the boat near the maritime border with Pakistan, around 365km from the coastal state of Gujarat, following an intelligence tip-off.

It said the crew had "tried to escape" leading to a high-speed chase that lasted almost an hour before the boat eventually stopped after warning shots were fired.

The boat then exploded and sank with the apparent loss of all four lives, the defence ministry said at the time, calling the crew "suspected or possible terrorists".

The Coast Guard alleged shortly afterwards that the four crew must have been hiding "something really serious" to have blown themselves up.

The incident evoked memories of the 2008 Mumbai attacks when Pakistani militants managed to sneak into India's financial capital by sea and then began a 60-hour siege of India's economic capital that left 166 people dead.

Pakistan has rejected India's allegations about the boat as "baseless and preposterous".

Pakistani and Indian fishermen are frequently caught in each other's waters and arrested because the maritime border in the Arabian Sea is poorly defined and many fishing boats lack the technology needed to be certain of their precise location.