A ship detained by Cyprus on January 29 was carrying banned weapons material from Iran prohibited under United Nations resolutions, a senior diplomatic source confirmed yesterday.

The source told the Sunday Mail that was the advice the government received from a United Nations panel monitoring compliance of sanctions. Nicosia had sought guidance from the body earlier in the week after submitting a list of findings from the vessel, detained by Cyprus.

"There is no doubt that the material on board falls under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions," the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

The Cyprus-flagged Monchegorsk had been sailing from Iran to Syria when it was called in by Cypriot authorities for checks.

Its cargo appears to include "military ordnance, raw materials used for the assembly of munitions," the source said.

The United States, which earlier boarded the ship in the Red Sea, said its navy found weapons on board which it could not seize for legal reasons.

Israeli media had reported the vessel was suspected of running weapons to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

"It's understood that Cyprus is now handling the matter because the sanctions committee does not prescribe remedies," the source added.

"This is a delicate matter, but I believe the government has been handling it very well," the diplomatic source told the Mail, asked whether foreign government had passed the buck to Cyprus.

"It's not over yet," the source added.

The UN sanctions panel handed its response to Cyprus' Permanent Representative to the UN Minas Hadjimichael around 2a.m. local time yesterday. The letter has been deemed classified.

The government remained tight-lipped about the affair, with President Demetris Christofias telling reporters: "When we have something specific to announce, we shall certainly do so and with absolute clarity."

Christofias said Cyprus had received clear guidance from the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on whether the cargo breached sanctions barring Iran from sending arms abroad, but he refused to give any details or say what was advised.

Cyprus is also consulting with the UN Security Council on the issue, government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said.

"The Cyprus Republic will do what it must do and will decide very soon," Stefanou told a news briefing.

No deadline had been set by which the government was expected to take action, he added.

Despite repeated questions, he declined to say what Nicosia's options were.

"Inspections of the ship's cargo will continue. As you may know, there are quite a few containers on board."

Stephanou declined also to comment on a recent statement by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said allowing the ship to head back to Iran was out of the question.

One option could be to confiscate the cargo. But Cyprus has ruled out sending the shipment back to Iran, Christofias' adviser George Iacovou told state-run CyBC radio.

The Monchegorsk is now anchored off the port of Limassol under tight security. Two Coast Guard boats have been assigned round-the-clock patrols. Police scuba divers were yesterday checking the waters around the ship to ensure none of its cargo was dumped into the sea.

The ship's course has raised a host of questions, such as why a Cyprus-flagged vessel would come into Cypriot territorial waters - where it was bound to be checked - instead of plotting a westerly and then northerly heading around the island and then for Syria after crossing the Suez Canal. It's understood the Monchegorsk was intercepted by the US Navy outside Cypriot territorial waters.