British ship captain linked to arms smuggling

A British ship captain is wanted for questioning over the alleged smuggling of more than £1.25 million of high-powered firearms, officials said.

The captain of the Panamanian-registered ship at the centre of the investigation fled on board a private yacht moments before Philippines customs officials boarded the vessel and confiscated 54 rifles worth about £310,000 (Philippines Pesos 25 million) in five crates.

Customs commissioner Napoleon Morales said the firearms were mostly Indonesian-made Galil rifles and added officials also noted 15 empty crates and arrested 14 crew members during the raid, which took place off the port of Mariveles in Bataan on Thursday.

Mr Morales told the Philippines Daily Inquirer he wanted a swift resolution of the case "since this might affect our peace and order situation".

He said he believed the British captain left the ship on board the Mou Man Tai and the Philippine Air Force and Coastguard were now trying to locate the private yacht, which was last spotted near Palawan.

"Imagine what would happen if a terrorist group got hold of those powerful weapons. It would certainly affect our internal security," he said.

"I want the investigation to proceed without delay. If the evidence so warrants, the fact-finding team should hold all other persons involved criminally.

"The fact-finding committee will ensure air-tight criminal cases based on solid evidence, and not just hearsay, are filed in order to convict (suspects)."

Coastguard chief Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo added they were alerted by customs personnel to the presence of the suspected arms smuggling ship early on Thursday morning.