Malaysia's maritime authorities on Monday said cannon shells believed to be from World War II have been found on a China-registered bulk carrier ship detained at the weekend for anchoring in its waters without permission.
The discovery comes amid reports this month that scavengers have targeted two British World War II wrecks off the coast of Malaysia - the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse - which were sunk by Japanese torpedoes in 1941, just three days after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
Following reports of the illegal salvage activity, Britain's National Museum of the Royal Navy last week said it was "distressed and concerned at the apparent vandalism for personal profit" of the two wrecks.
The defense ministry condemned the "desecration" of maritime military graves, the BBC said on Saturday.
Malaysia's allegations against the Chinese ship
A ship registered in Fuzhou, China and carrying 32 crew failed to present anchoring permits during a routine inspection in waters off Malaysia's southern Johor state on Sunday, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) said.
Authorities found scrap metal and cannon shells on the ship upon further checks.
The shells could be linked to a separate seizure by police at a Johor jetty last week of multiple unexploded World War II-era artillery.
Authorities believe those may have been scavenged from the HMS Prince of Wales, the MMEA said, adding it was working with Malaysia's National Heritage Department and other agencies to identify the ammunition found.