Dubai: Customs have seized more than 100 pieces of priceless antiquities from on board a vessel that attempted to smuggle them through Dubai Creek's entry, in one of the biggest ever attempts of its kind in the history of the area.

Ahmad Butti Ahmad, Director General of Dubai Customs, said the seized antiques date back to various eras of Middle Eastern history, but are around 5,000 years old.

He said six sailors, believed to be from Iran, were on board the vessel and have been detained for questioning.

Ahmad said the 128 pieces include stone sculptures, pottery and silver vessels, golden and silver coins, worked pieces of gold and silver, and jewellery.

Customs inspectors had suspected a vessel that arrived in Dubai Creek after they noticed suspicious behaviour from the ship's captain and crew. The captain told the inspectors, who questioned him about the vessel's load, that it was empty.

The captain insisted on clearing the customs procedures of the vessel swiftly, which raised the inspectors' doubts regarding the ship's load.

A team of three inspectors boarded the vessel and found a partition in the a wall. The captain refused to remove the partition when asked, claiming that the vessel would sink if the partition is removed.

When the inspectors removed the partition, a large number of antiquities concealed in paper boxes were found. Initial examinations showed that the pieces were Iraqi.

Denied knowledge

The captain and the crew denied any knowledge of the contraband, while one sailor admitted to be the one who stored the boxes without the knowledge of the captain and other sailors.

"The Customs are investigating the issue and questioning the sailors who are giving different versions of stories and saying different countries' names, but apparently they do not know the value of these items," Ahmad said.

Ahmad said the seized antiquities are priceless due to their historical, informative and scientific significance.

"We are waiting for an expert from a British museum who will come in January to verify these antiquities," he said.

He added that the seized goods are being kept under tight custody until customs make arrangements with concerned authorities.

Ahmad said the incident highlights the vigilance of Customs personnel, who are trained in the latest internationally recognised methods and techniques.

"Our personnel, especially those guarding ports, go through various training which include body language," he said. "In this incident, they were able to read the suspicious body language of the vessel's captain and crew and find out that there was something wrong."

Dubai Customs have in the past made large seizures of various items such as diamonds, drugs and fake medicines.