Hong Kong has seized a shipment of Singapore-bound armoured vehicles from Taiwan. The vehicles belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) were intercepted by the Hong Kong customs department for unknown reasons.

The interception comes within days of Singapore supporting the Philippines in the ongoing South China Sea territorial dispute with China. Relations between Singapore and Beijing has so far remained untroubled.

The city-state's defence ministry said the nine armoured vehicles were used as part of SAF's training exercises in overseas territories and did not carry any ammunition. Singapore usually carries out training exercises in several nations including India, US, Germany and Australia while the armed forces rely on commercial carriers to transport equipment.

A statement from the ministry said it was a routine inspection by Hong Kong authorities: "Singapore authorities are providing relevant assistance to Hong Kong Customs and expect the shipment to return to Singapore expeditiously. The Terrex ICVs [Infantry Carrier Vehicles] were used by the Singapore Armed Forces in routine overseas training and shipped back via commercial means as with previous exercises."

Pictures of tarpaulin-covered military vehicles parked at the Kwai Chung terminal were splashed in local dailies. No explosives were found during the check.

Singapore did not mention the origin of the consignment or the number of vehicles involved. However, local reports suggested that the eight-wheeled armoured personnel carriers are from Taiwan. Sources told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that Singaporean authorities need to get in touch with the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs to get the vehicles back.

"Singapore will probably be in big trouble this time because Beijing could use this chance to give the city-state a hard time [in retaliation for] Singapore's stand on the South China Sea issue. Worse still, the exposure of the carriers in Hong Kong could reveal Singaporean military secrets, including its communication system with the Taiwanese military," Macau-based military expert Antony Wong Dong was cited as saying.