An undocumented Russian cargo ship, carrying weapons and explosives, was detained by the South African port authorities, sailing off the coast of Port Elizabeth on Sunday.

South African authorities were conducting operations in the Port of Ngqura, which lies around 12 miles northeast of Port Elizabeth, when they received a tip regarding the vessel in question.

The vessel, named Lada, which was on its way from Tulear, Madagascar, to Lagos, Nigeria, and the United States, had a stop at the Ngqura port. It had already unloaded 14 containers at the port, for which it produced all the proper documentations. The 14 containers were shipped from a company called Solar India.

The tipster told the authorities the vessel contained 20 additional containers comprising suspicious cargo, after which they searched the ship and discovered the stowed away contraband described as “weapons of mass destruction.”

A source familiar with the investigation told Herald Live the ammunition found on the ship was worth about $3.5 million.

Lada did not have a transit permit as required in the Non Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, 1993 (Act No. 97 of 1993) by every vessel carrying weapons or explosives that entered the South African territorial waters. In addition, the ship was also found in violation of the South African Explosives Act.

“The NPC [South African Council for the Non Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction] can confirm that the vessel contained controlled items that were in transit and were not going to be offloaded in South Africa,” a statement from the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation said on Facebook, adding that, “The explosives additives in question have both civilian (industrial) and military applications and are therefore controlled items.”

After confirming the ship did not have the necessary legal documents, it was ordered by the local authorities to be anchored nine miles off the Nelson Mandela Bay coastline.

"TNPA [Transnet National Ports Authority] gave permission for the vessel to be detained outside the port - although still within port limits - and we will continue monitoring the vessel," Tandi Lebakeng, the manager for the Port of Ngqura, told News24.

The exact number and details regarding the weapons found on the ship were not disclosed by the authorities.

"We are not prepared to divulge details pending a thorough assessment," said Brig. Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesperson for South Africa's Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation. “No charges have been laid against anyone and as mentioned, we are not obliged to divulge [information] until the finalization of this process." 

Investigation into the matter was being handled by Hawks, South Africa's Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, which targets organized crime, economic crime, corruption, and other serious crimes.

NPC praised the law enforcement for their extraordinary work in detaining the undocumented cargo ship.

“The Council wishes to commend the South African Police Services’ Inspectorate of Explosives for vigilance as this further validates the robustness of the Non-proliferation framework of the country,” it said.

Lada is a 2,000-built, 4,500 dwt freighter which belongs to St. Petersburg-based operator Transflot.