On December 22, the US Navy reported that two days earlier it had intercepted a fishing vessel attempting to smuggle weapons through the Arabian Sea. On board, Coast Guard and Navy personnel found 226,600 rounds of ammunition and 1,400 AK-pattern assault rifles. While the vessel was stateless, the five men comprising the crew identified themselves as Yemeni. According to an official Navy press release:
“The stateless vessel was assessed to have originated in Iran and transited international waters along a route historically used to traffic weapons unlawfully to the Houthis in Yemen. The direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons to the Houthis violates U.N. Security Council Resolutions and U.S. sanctions.”
The Navy also said that once the weapons and crew were removed, “U.S. naval forces determined the stateless vessel was a hazard to navigation for commercial shipping”. The smugglers’ boat was then promptly dispatched to Davy Jones’s Locker.
The weapon smuggling vessel was detected and boarded by the crews of two US Cyclone-class patrol ships – the USS Tempest and USS Typhoon. The small craft, manned by Navy crews and Coast Guard interdiction teams, then handed over the illicit cargo to the guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane. The three ships operate under the 5th Fleet area of operations and are not new the Middle East, having first deployed to regional waters in 2004. This part of the world includes some of the most important choke points along the arteries of global trade: the Suez Canal, Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Bab al Mandeb.
This year, the Navy’s routine security patrols in the region have been particularly fruitful. Warships operating under the 5th Fleet secured around 8,700 “illicit weapons” since January. A particularly successful interdiction came in May when the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey found thousands of small arms including “Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns” as well as heavier weapons like Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles aboard one ship. It is also suspected that the May shipment originated in Iran and was headed towards Yemen.