The Special Investigation Team with the Kerala Police on Friday said they had arrested three people in connection with a fishing boat that left from Kerala and is reportedly carrying passengers illegally migrating to New Zealand, The Indian Express reported. The vessel, Daya Mata, is suspected to have left Munambam on January 12, a defence ministry spokesperson had said.

Kochi Range Inspector General Vijay Sakhare described the case as illegal migration and ruled out human trafficking. The arrested accused have been identified as Anilkumar of Venganoor in Thiruvananthapuram, Prabhu Dandapani and Ravi Raja of Madangir in New Delhi, Deccan Chronicle reported. The police said the three accused had facilitated the purchase of the boat and helped the passengers while they were in Kerala.

A preliminary inquiry had indicated that 40 people who had been staying in resorts and homestays in Kerala’s Cherai and Munambam were on board the vessel. The boat, which has a fake registration address, had been bought by two men identified as Anil Kumar and Srikanthan before it set sail, the Kerala police had said.

The Navy and Coast Guard have deployed several vessels to search for the boat.

Sakhare claimed the police have identified a mafia group behind the illegal migration. “We suspect that the four out of the five suspects left with the group on January 12,” Sakhare said. “We are searching for the remaining one who is still in the country. The mafia behind the illegal migration may have attempted a similar operation in the past.”

The police identified the prime accused as Sri Lankan national Sreekanthan. They said they are investigating if he had any links with militant organisation LTTE. They have reportedly seized several bank passbooks and five Sri Lankan passports from his house.