Italian authorities scouting the Mediterranean for migrant vessels have intercepted a Libyan fishing boat carrying tonnes of drugs.

Police said the ship was cruising towards Italy when it was spotted by an ATR 42MP reconnaissance aircraft taking part in the European Union's border patrol Operation Triton.

It was stopped by two police vessels 27 miles south of Pantelleria, one of Sicily's southernmost islands, a major arrival port for asylum seekers crossing from North Africa.

On board, security forces found almost six tonnes of hashish under a false bottom in the engine room. Five Libyan nationals and one Tunisian have been arrested.

Sources close to the operation told IBTimes UK it is believed the Libyan-flagged ship did not set sail from the civil-war-torn country, but most likely from Morocco.

It raised the suspicion of police as it was navigating in unusually high seas for a fishing expedition.

Authorities said they were investigating where the drug smugglers intended to disembark the drug load and whether they had ties with Italian organized crime groups.

The hashish cargo was the latest in a series of similar hauls recently seized by police in Mediterranean waters, as both human and drug smugglers seem to have taken advantage of the security crisis in Libya to boost their illicit traffics.

Over the last month only, Italian authorities said they busted more than 26 tonnes of hashish at sea, making 25 arrests.