In a major step, the Indian Navy has banned the use of smartphones at naval bases, dockyards and onboard warships.

Use of all social networking platforms including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and other messengers has also been banned at the naval bases and ships.

The “stringent” step has been taken by the force soon after seven naval personnel were caught leaking sensitive information to enemy intelligence agencies over social media.

Recently, seven navy personnel and a hawala operator were arrested for allegedly leaking sensitive information to an espionage racket with links to Pakistan.

The arrest of the seven navy officials from Mumbai, Karwar and Vishakapatnam for leaking sensitive information about the movements of warships and submarines to Pakistani agents had exposed lapses in the security apparatus placed around critical assets in India.

“Three sailors were arrested from Visakhapatnam, two from Karwar and two from Mumbai,” said intelligence agencies, which busted the espionage racket being run by Pakistan.

The agencies had stated that both Eastern and Western naval command centres, responsible for the security of the maritime borders from China and Pakistan, were exposed to these Pakistan’s agents.

“Some more suspects are being questioned,” the agencies said.

The agencies pointed out that Vishakapatnam, the headquarters of the Eastern Command of the Indian Navy and also the base of the nuclear submarine Arihant, was exposed to the espionage racket. It also stated that the Eastern Command keeps tab upon the suspicious Chinese ship movements in the Indian waters.

The western naval command is located in Mumbai from where all nefarious activities carried out by Pakistan was also exposed and so was Karwar, the naval centre which has the lone aircraft carrier Vikramaditya.

The Indian Navy, however, maintained that all of their critical assets are intact and there is no security breach.

About arrests, the force said: “In a joint operation with the Naval Intelligence and Central Intelligence Agencies, Andhra Pradesh Police arrested some junior naval personnel. The case is under investigation by Andhra Pradesh Police.”

In the meantime, Andhra Pradesh police intelligence wing had also said that they have busted the racket under an operation named ‘Dolphin’s Nose’ in association with the central intelligence agencies and Naval Intelligence.

The accused were produced before the National Investigation Agency court in Vijayawada on December 20. They were remanded to judicial custody till January 3.

The police had said that all the arrested officials were in touch with Pakistani women who had befriended them on Facebook.

It is alleged that officials were paid through a hawala operator for providing information. The chats between these sailors who were being used by Pakistanis were sexually explicit.

Sources said the honey trap with women posing as their friends on Facebook was set up by the Pakistani intelligence operatives. The sailors were later blackmailed and forced to give information.

“We are further probing the matter and more people could be arrested,” said the agencies.