India Seizes Cargo for Pakistan from CMA CGM Vessel Alleging Nuclear Ties

India Mumbai container port
Indian officials seized cargo bound for Pakistan alleging violations of nonproliferation agreements (file photo)

Published Mar 4, 2024 12:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

A new international incident is brewing between India and Pakistan after Indian officials confirmed that they had seized a cargo off a CMA CGM containership bound for Pakistan. India is claiming the cargo could be used to support Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs while Pakistan is refuting the claims.

India released news of the seizure just as Pakistan was completing the second round of elections for Prime Minister and was reporting that Shehbaz Sharif had won a second term as Prime Minister of Pakistan. With the seizure having taken place more than a month ago, questions surfaced if it was an attempt to embarrass the government and its supporter China with the timing of the news.

India claims officials in Mumbai’s Nhava Sheva port became suspicious after identifying irregularities in the paperwork of a shipment aboard the CMA CGM Attila. The 13-year-old containership, 105,100 dwt with a capacity of 8,700 TEU, operates on a regular route between China, Singapore, India, and Pakistan. 

The vessel arrived in India on January 24 and among the cargo were 2,200 kilos bound for a company in Pakistan which India claims is on its watch list and has a history of suspicious imports. Indian officials accused the company, Cosmos Engineering, of being a defense supplier, while Pakistan in its repose said it is a Karachi-based commercial entity that supplies parts to the automobile industry in Pakistan.

India’s Defense Research and Development Organization, working with customs officials, seized the cargo and is now asserting that it was an Italian-manufactured CNC (computer numerical control) machine used for precise applications and is banned under international agreements to stop proliferation. They further allege the shipment was arranged by a Chinese company which they said is further evidence of China’s support of activities in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded in a statement calling the situation an “unjust seizure” and condemning India’s high-handedness in the seizure of commercial goods. They are contending that the seized shipment is a commercial lathe machine.

“These reports are reflective of Indian media’s habitual misrepresentation of facts,” Pakistan’s Ministry said in its statement.

Indian officials however contend that this is neither the first example of this type of illegal import nor the first time this company has been suspected for breaking the nonproliferation agreements. They allege in 2020, China was caught shipping an autoclave to Pakistan which was manifested as an “industrial dryer.” In 2022, Indian officials reported they intercepted Italian-made thermoelectric instruments also at the Nhava Shena port going to Cosmos Engineering.

As part of its response to the latest incident, Pakistan said the relevant private entities are pursuing the matter. The CMA CGM vessel was cleared and has returned to its normal route.