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BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) - Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland seized a boat loaded with weapons from Yemen in Saturday's early hours, the regional maritime police chief said.

Puntland authorities displayed dozens of anti-aircraft guns, machine guns, AK-47 rifles and dozens of boxes of ammunition seized from the boat after it was stopped in coastal waters off the Horn of Africa region.

The journey of the small vessel, known as Al Faruq, was tracked from Yemen by European maritime forces patrolling sea lanes off Somalia, Abdirahman Mohamud Hassan, the director general of Puntland maritime police force, told Reuters.

He said they had seized other boatloads of arms destined for Islamic State and al Shabaab militants active in Somalia though on this occasion the cargo was believed to be owned by arms smugglers who would have sold them at local retail outlets.

"Today, we suspect traders own these weapons, but we shall investigate further," he said.

Puntland has been hit by heavy fighting in recent months as al Shabaab and a splinter group linked to Islamic State attacked government troops around the Galagala hills, 30 km southeast of the regional capital Bosaso.

In June al Shabaab overran a military base in the town of Af Urur in the hills area, killing 38 people, mainly soldiers.

Unlike the rest of Somalia, Puntland rarely suffered from militant attacks before the recent surge in violence, mainly because its security forces are relatively regularly paid and receive substantial U.S. assistance.

(Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; writing by Duncan Miriri; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Reuters