The ship's South African captain and his 13 crewmen, mostly Georgians, were arrested and are undergoing questioning, said Chief Superintendent Leon Nilo de la Cruz, the regional police chief.
The seizure comes amid a police campaign to rid the country of unregistered firearms blamed for fueling crime, terrorism and insurgencies. The program is expected to recover only 3 percent of an estimated 1.1 million loose firearms -- a realistic target in a country with “cultural propensity” for gun possession, Philippine National Police Chief Jesus Versoza said Tuesday.
Philippine authorities inspect high-powered firearms seized on board the M/V Captain Ufuk.
The ship, M/V Captain Ufuk, arrived at a port in western Bataan province's Mariveles township from Turkey via Indonesia, de la Cruz said. The ship was en route to the port of Batangas City, just south of Manila. Police, coast guard and customs agents jointly inspected the vessel and discovered 50 Galil assault rifles and assorted military accessories hidden in five wooden crates.
Another 10 empty wooden crates were found aboard the ship, prompting a search that was still ongoing late Thursday. De la Cruz said there were suspicions the crewmen could have thrown some of their illegal cargo off the ship. “The ship was inspected amid suspicion it was carrying contraband,” he added. De la Cruz said they were still investigating the incident but would file criminal charges against the ship's crew. He said they were still investigating who owned the ship. There was no statement from Turkish authorities, and no company immediately claimed ownership of the ship.
Intelligence reports earlier pointed to possible arms smuggling in the area involving a foreign ship, officials explained. They said the guns may have been intended for Muslim militants, communist guerrillas or for the private armies of politicians gearing up for next year's election.