Authorities in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland said on Saturday they have seized a boat loaded with weapons, officials told VOA.
“We have captured the boat, named Al Faruq, loaded with different weapons, including anti-aircraft machineguns, AK47 rifles, pistols and ammunition,” said Mohamed Mohamud Hassan, the acting regional maritime police chief.
Hassan said Puntland police tracked the boat at sea as it tried to escape near Mareero coastal area nine kilometers east of Bosaso, the region’s largest port and commercial hub.
“The boat off-loaded some of its shipment and speed away when the security forces suspected the activity. The police seized both the weapons on the boat and that offloaded,” said Hassan.
Authorities displayed the seized weapons to journalists, saying they are investigating in an effort to determine who sent the shipment where it was destined.
“The police are investigating where the shipment came from... and who owned it, and we will issue a statement at a later date,” said Hassan.
Local media has quoted other Puntland police officials on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter before the investigation is finished that the small vessel was tracked from Yemen by European maritime forces patrolling off Somalia’s sea lanes.
Hassan said the boat’s occupants had fled by the time security forces approached the vessel.
In the past, Puntland security forces have said they captured similar boats coming from Yemen that were carrying heavy weapons destined for the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab rebels. This has raised concern about possible cooperation between the Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Somali Islamist militant group.
The capture of these weapons comes a day after the Somali government repeated its plea for world leaders to lift an international arms embargo.
Delivering his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, Somalia Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said his country needs a longstanding weapons embargo fully lifted so the national army can obtain heavy weapons to defeat al-Shabab.
Al-Shabab is behind the spate in recent years of suicide bombings, and attacks on hotels, restaurants and military bases housing African Union troops and the Somali National Army.
““In Somalia, we have made significant strides in which we have weakened the capability of al-Shabab. To ensure the sustainability of such gains, we focused on strengthening the military capability of our national security forces. However, the arms embargo imposed against Somalia is a severe limitation toward this objective,” Khaire told the U.N. assembly.
Fadumo Yasin contributed this report.