Two Hercules C-130J transport aircrafts of the 14th Airborne Division of the Indian Air Force touched down at Gan International Airport at 21:05 hrs with 600 paratroopers and Indian media of NDTV. Two more HAL Tejas fighters followed. Flight Lieutenant Feroz Daksh had flown once again to the Maldives as ordered by the Southern Air Command in Trivandrum on a mission to guard the missile hubs set up in the Equatorial waters. If ordered; go in action.
The 600 paratroopers belonged to MCF (Marine Commando Force) as formerly called the IMSF (Indian Maritime Special Force) based in Trivandrum with three battalions of the 340th Army Independent Brigade. The MCF section was rather known as the Marcos under the Indian Navy – Bharatiya Nau Sena.
On 3rd November 1988, mercenaries climbed a cargo vessel, MV Progress Light, with hostages and tried to flee. There were plenty of small boats in Fua Mulak inlet harbour. Nobody at that point could tell how an escape route was planned but surely not without one. In 1988 incident, Indian armed forces under the codename Operation Cactus arrived by air and touched down in blind at Malé International Airport, the runway lit for five minutes and then switched off before a breathtaking landing in the dark. Nonetheless, this force was then carried on local boats to the island capital of Malé. For this reason, Indian troops had flown fighter jets and a frigate unit was called in under the codename Operation Turquoise.
In December 2012, mercenaries took foreign tourists as hostage and asked for an air route out and blocked the waters with machine gun cover. No matter how small the adversary force, they were heavily armed and surprisingly, hugely funded to acquire armoured vehicles, a landing craft and a battle tank typically used in battlefields of cross-country terrains. It could fire so many kinds of shells at long-distance but manoeuvring on narrow lanes of the hamlets was relatively a miscalculated error. However, it could fire in any direction over the trees and houses on a small island from any location with the proper gadget and data. Colonel Omar had noted this point as he obtained information from the food girls; policewomen in plainclothes joined ward office services to carry meals to the dock and the knoll. These girls were asked to taste the food first. Sergeant Ilham managed to describe the machine gun believed to be a Browning M1919. By chance if a climb could go undetected, an approach could begin from a 1200 metre distance from the northeast coast and at safe range of the guns, even closer possibly since the mid island area gave enough safe distance from firing range of the guns mounted on both ends of the island. The girls reported that the tourists were held at close range only a metre or so from the guns and firing blindly would kill them. Another stroke of luck, mercenaries only expected an attack from open water; the machine guns were pointed towards the sea and night-vision binoculars traced out on the ocean while the girls were there.
Nalin Mendis was climbing her Maruti in the parking area at Faruman Riyal when she heard sirens and two police squad cars stopped outside the building. Six blue shirt inspectors ran upstairs. They were armed with pistols. She frowned for a moment and then took her steps towards the office intending to find out what was the rush. She reached the stairs and stopped there to call a staff first. Nalin was told that an officer asked for Ibthisham’s computer and to check everything at her work desk.
Nalin took a deep breath, “Okay, if they ask for me, tell them I have gone home.” She could imagine how the police would ransack the whole place. She did not want to know the purpose. She would rather get away. Why Ibthisham? She was away on honeymoon with her boss, probably in Malos Madol Atoll. She presumed that Mehdi made an escape with his wife. Nalin wondered if he was actually behind this whole thing.
She switched off her cell phone and returned to the Maruti, drove out of the back gate and turned to the Link Road heading south to Gan Island. She drove carefully with several military vehicles on the move. She was hoping to catch the 22:00 hours subtrain at the Equator Cross station. Nalin thought not to go to her lodge and instead spend the night at Estado Mello Heré.
She reached Gan Island and the traffic gate just in time for embarkation. She used her card for one-way four-wheel boarding and eventually rolled her Maruti inside the subtrain, the doors closed and the machine pushed towards the open sea on the track accelerating in no time. Within minutes, the subtrain dipped in dive into the dark waters outside Gan, producing a ripple of waves around the object. Nalin felt numbed for about fifteen minutes or plausibly sleepy with air-conditioning and oxygenation.
Horrendously, the subtrain shook in a vibration and slowed to a halt unexpectedly somewhere underwater between Gan Island and Meedu Reef.
It was the Dornier 328 approaching from northeast for 22:15 touchdown at Gan International Airport. Indian Navy based in Meedu Island ordered to cut off Meedu connection of the submarine-way – the only land or road connection to Meedu Reef. On either side of the track at Point Gan and Point Herétheré, the underwater railing emerged out of water from quarter mile distance to dry dock stations. Somehow the Indian Navy sighted an intruder aircraft or whilst informed of two flights heading to Gan International Airport, they decided that the Indian arsenal should be disconnected from land or land means. Once that done only seagoing vessels could approach the island of Meedu. Indian Navy maintained radar watch for surface intruders and two patrol ships out in the sea to protect the missile hubs.
Watchful eyes in Meedu saw the missile flared towards east. It took a U-turn over the eastern horizon and glided back towards Meedu Reef flying very low. A Dhanush surface-to-surface missile struck the exposed track and blasted the metalwork disconnecting Meedu Reef.
Meanwhile, Dornier 328 aeroplane was cruising on a 120˚ turn to approach Gan from the east. Aircrafts never flew great distance south beyond Gan Island. The crew saw the explosion and the divers observed a fire quite dramatically in shock.
The Airbus was fifteen minutes behind flying with 200 paratroopers of QRF3 after the transfer stop at Kaddeu Airport. Airtours authorised to do just one run on double charge and return to Malé safely, if otherwise pay compensation for a brand new aircraft and paint job. Airtours hired the aircraft from a Holland company to do its own charters.
Nalin felt the subtrain swing insecurely from side to side. An emergency alarm buzzed and the pilot called on the intercom, “Attention passengers! I am the captain speaking. This is an emergency. You are advised to be seated while the ship climbs over water. You are instructed to remain seated until the vessel is docked safely.”
The subtrain automatically released its clutch wheels attached to the railing and slowly began ascending to the surface; water pressure pushing it upwards and its buoyancy floating her balance. The crew in its active cockpit observed water cascading down anterior windowpanes. This vessel shaped like an aeroplane or a white airship got no passenger portholes and no way to see the outside. A commuter tried to climb down to the bottom compartment where traffic cargo was loaded. A hostess in blue and white uniform told him, “Please be seated and fasten your seatbelt. You cannot go down there. The doors are auto-locked on cruise.”
In standard operating procedure, the bottom compartment cargo hold was checked before cruise and no passenger allowed in case a dangerous amount of carbon-monoxide emitted from the automobiles could remain in the bottom-hold. The subtrain’s reprocessing systems cleaned air automatically during underwater cruise.
Nalin dashed to the cockpit pointing north on the north run. As Project Manager she passed through to the cockpit and observed the island of Herétheré in total darkness lying on a stretch from north to south and lights of the hotels facing opposite direction flickering over the palms. Further north, the uninhabited part of Herétheré connected to Meedu Island and lights of the villages shown from four mile distance. One of the crew was calling on radio to bring in a rescue team from the station which was a mile away located on Herétheré Island. She quickly learnt that an Indian missile hit the submarine-way. The pilot traced its searchlight on the bridge-like framework surfaced above water and main column or track underwater. The missile hit the portion exposed over water and the metal fabrication was torn apart. Further ahead, she saw the lights of rescue boats bearing towards them.
The rescue team saw the white ship emerge in water a mile out of the lagoon. The vessel painted white, silver and yellow. Captain of the rescue team instructed his crew, “We reach in five minutes. Tug the vessel into Herétheré waters and remove the passengers. We cannot open its cargo vault while she’s in water. Make sure we don’t pull the ship into too shallow water.”
In fifteen minutes the vessel was pushed into Herétheré lagoon. Emergency doors opened and rubber dinghies rolled automatically filling air. Passengers slid into the dinghies and the rescue boats.
Nalin asked a crew, “Where are you taking us?”
“To the station dock,” he replied.
“My hotel is right down there.” She pointed to the direction of Estado Mello Heré loom over the palms in the dark.
“You can climb that jet-ski.”
There was a bloke on a jet-ski and she climbed on. In seconds she reached the shore of Herétheré.
There were tourists out on the beach watching the huge craft in Herétheré waters and commuters in tiny glooms disembarking. The ship was glowing in the searchlight floods.
Nalin climbed the beach and walked barefoot in the sand to Estado Mello Heré. She picked her cellular from the handbag, switched on and called the Brazilian manager, Diogo Alves. He was in a rage for police looted his office. She was instructed to follow up with recovery and return to Hithadu by speedboat urgently.
Meanwhile, police search of Ibthisham’s work desk revealed plenty of emails exchanged with an Indian named Feroz Daksh retrieved from her office computer. In a recent correspondence it said that she was going to the wedding island of Innafushi with her husband for honeymoon and it was a dream of Mehdi.
In Dandimagu it was a quiet night, particularly in mid village that Ahmed and Jumanah climbed. People came out to the long dead street to observe nothing on the move and lights go blind to the far ends. A couple of times the BTR-4 armoured truck passed at high speed, a 100 kph. It produced a sound like sand hitting on metal. People were scared. The juveniles stayed at a house for two hours since they witnessed the landing. Ahmed was too scared to go and fetch his bike but he did eventually with three other friends. Jumanah called home and gave news about the incident to her mother. Her family was safe in Doondigam. Her mother advised not to attempt to come home.
Having obtained the bike, Ahmed decided to go home. It was then around eight-thirty. People said that there were anxious tourists on the beachside cafeterias talking about the events and a considerable crowd had gathered around Hotel Korakeli. He negotiated with his friends and carefully planned how he could make way to Doondigam without getting into trouble. He wasn’t going to take Digwand turn near the hotels, absolutely not. The next option was to climb Hodand by the knoll in the micro-farm fields exactly where the mercenaries landed and unheard of since. At this time of the night it was the darkest spot on earth. There were few other dirt roads but Ahmed wasn’t familiar with them to navigate through damp areas and low ground in total darkness. Another hour passed and finding nothing peculiar he finally decided to take the open field encompassing the airstrip, take a shortcut across the runway and climb Hodand Pass.
He drove northeast on Dandimagu Street with Jumanah. “Look! There is blood! That is where the cop died,” she noticed the dark marks on the paved surface as they passed the point where Sergeant Nadir was shot. His body was removed. Ahmed made no attempt to slow down but an inner voice was telling him something was wrong. In fact he was so close to the airfield when the mercenaries showed up and waved him to stop.
In a moment, the juveniles walked into the tall grass and vanished into the darkness, escorted by three mercenaries. Ahmed’s GSX500 stood on its stand in the middle of the road, beam on and engine running. After a while someone removed it off the road. Had he decided to take the dirt road by the North Kuli, he could bypass Hotel Korakeli and climb Digwand Pass to arrive safely at Madand, island nucleus.
Captain Harris got a difficult task in hand to accomplish in sixty minutes. He sent a boy to Malegam to tell the houses close to the island mid section to keep the backlights switched off. Harris switched his mobile phone to vibration mode and climbed the pier to wash his shoes. This beautiful pier was built on the edge of the mangrove waters by the idealistic juveniles to spend moonlit nights down here. They got jet-skis and canoes around the mangrove waters. Nothing could be seen on a dark night without the moon. Some climbed down to fish here. Beacons in spherical covers lit the pier gazebo and he quickly climbed away from the light for his own safety. He walked in the mud to the pier and his shoes got dirty. The dry path to the pier could be approached from Miskiimagu but they took a shortcut from Funad as a precaution. Anyone could tell where he had been if they saw the dirt on his shoes.
Captain Harris had changed to plainclothes. He managed to get hold of Mauruf, the Funad diver, moved an oxygen cylinder across Funad Pass and both came down to the mangrove.
Mauruf had gone deep to check the canal up to the reef edge. He was gone for twenty minutes. It could save plenty of time if he could place some lights on the reef crater. At that point Captain Harris was told by the QRF8 command that a bunch of divers would knock in through that way.
Brusquely it shook Captain Harris to receive a buzz on his phone in vibration mode he experienced for the first time and felt it like a creature creeping on him. Corporal Midhat was calling. He slipped into the bushes and replied, “How’s it going?”
“I have changed four streetlights to ultra-violet tubes. It can be spotted from great distance. The canal is assumingly under the small mosque on the seashore.” This mosque was a very old and a tiny shelter only used by pedestrians to pray. Midhat continued, “The mosque area has more streetlights than the rest on the coast, so it can be easily spotted. I’ve gone to all the houses west of Malegam Pass. All backlights are switched off.”
“Excellent!” said the captain, “I hope Lieutenant Qusay manages to call the boys to this side of the island to the safe house in Doondigam. I hope they manage to get the gear from the airport armoury. I’ll be there soon. If you have the GPS now, transfer the data to QRF8 and inform them about the mosque and ultra-violet lights. I will call them once I know this budge is alright.” With a global positioning data in the divers’ computers, they could only miss by one metre. If Mauruf could tell the exact depth, there could be no possible chance for error or missing the canal.
Mauruf reached the outer reef through murky black waters inside the narrow passage. It grew cold and much clearer as he reached the seaward end. He flashed his torch on the interior surface and caught sight of tiny fish in the passage and the breach was blocked by metal netting. It took a moment to free the corroded grid. He undid his tank and clouted it off. He twisted the glow sticks, shook them and placed on the edge. The glow sticks would give light for four days. He then climbed to the surface for a thorough inspection.
He was caught in shock to discover the BTR-4 parked by the old mosque on the coastal road, a door open and a dark soldier leaning out smoking a cigarette. Street lights from the mosque area fell on his face. He immersed into the ripples that reflected dancing lights around. So close was the island in the tide and the shore within reach – big wheels of the armoured truck rolling almost on his head.
The hole was six metres deep and dug through the outer reef rather than drilled through and topped of rocks. The reef sloped steeply to the bottom of the sea. Mauruf could feel a strong current impact on the steep slope and spontaneous waves on the surface. From that range close to the island, none of the enemy guns could spot him because he was outside the viewpoint falling behind wide angles of the guns hidden within island contour.
Mauruf dived into the canal to sweep back to Bandara Kuli. Once again contaminated water blocked his light. He felt thick