Days after a mysterious Iranian vessel, loaded with automatic guns, raised suspicion after it was anchored at Lakshwadeep, another ship off Navlakhi port near Morbi has left security agencies in a state of panic.
Customs officials have recovered self-loading rifles (SLRs) and live cartridges from the ship, M V Genco Province, which has come from Indonesia carrying coal for Hindustan Zinc.
Officials said the weapons were declared to the department earlier but those on the ship did not have papers for weapons and ammunition. The ship has 21 Ukraine nationals and two security guards of Irish nationality. On Monday, senior coast guard, Navy, and police officials visited the Navlakhi port.
"We recovered four SLRs, which have been procured from the Sri Lankan Naval armory, from security guards on board. As many as 392 live cartridges of foreign make have also been seized. However, the company sending the ship declared only 320 cartridges. Those on the ship don't have the required papers to keep the weapons and are now arranging the same through their embassy," said a senior customs official.
Customs officials said they will write to the Sri Lankan authorities to verify the credentials of the vessel and claims of their crew members as they had traveled from a Lankan port. They, however, say many ships using these waters have now started keeping armed guards given the high frequency of pirate attacks.
"The crew members told us that they were carrying rifles to thwart any attack by pirates. But we are not taking any chances and port clearance will only be given after the papers ascertaining the legality of the weapons are submitted to us," said a customs official.
At the same time, the mysterious Iranian ship, anchored for close to 30 days near Lakshadweep, has become a major cause of concern for the government and coastal security agencies.
Last month, an Iranian vessel MV Assa intercepted near Lakshwadeep Islands was found carrying heavy automatic machine guns. The ship has been anchored there for over a month and Indian security agencies are yet to receive an explanation from Iranian authorities about the presence of weapons on the ship headed towards Colombo.