Malaysia's coast guard said Monday it has detained a Chinese vessel believed to have been involved in plundering World War II shipwrecks.

The Maritime Enforcement Agency said in a statement that the bulk carrier, registered in Fuzhou, China, and its 32 crew members were detained Sunday for anchoring in waters off the eastern coast of Malaysia's southern Johor state without a permit.

This undated photo supplied on May 29, 2023, shows a China-registered bulk carrier ship detained in the waters of Malaysia's east. (Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency/AP/Kyodo)

The coast guard also said they found on the ship cannon shells that are believed to be from sunken British World War II battleships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. The cannon shells are similar to ones discovered earlier this month at a scrapyard in Johor.

Japanese bombers sank the two ships in 1941 off the east coast of Malaysia in the South China Sea. Some 840 British sailors lost their lives in what has been described as one of the worst disasters in Britain's naval history.

The New Straits Times, a local newspaper, reported that local fishermen had seen the Chinese salvage vessel, identified as Chuan Hong 68, at the location of the shipwrecks since last month.

In an article published last Tuesday, the English daily said after dredging up the remains of the battleships, the Chinese vessel unloaded the haul at a private jetty in Johor with a scrapyard that can store and melt down metals.

Authorities had raided the scrapyard and found relics, including unexploded ordnance and artillery shells and scrap metal, believed to be from the Prince of Wales, according to the newspaper.

Last week, Britain's National Museum of the Royal Navy said it was "distressed and concerned at the apparent vandalism for personal profit" of the two ships.