By Joseph Golder

U.S. Navy ships seized 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition from a stateless fishing vessel during a flag verification boarding on Dec. 20, the Navy said in a statement.

The seizure by the Navy’s 5th Fleet was “in accordance with customary international law in the North Arabian Sea,” the Navy said.

“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 Navy said. “The direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons to the Houthis violates U.N. Security Council Resolutions and U.S. sanctions.”

The United States announced sanctions in June 2021 against a smuggling network that it alleges “works with Iran’s Quds Force, the elite arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, to generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of commodities, like Iranian petroleum,” a U.S. Treasury statement said.

The fishing vessel was intercepted by U.S. Navy vessels while transiting international waters in the North Arabian Sea. (U.S. Navy/Zenger)

The United Nations has launched relief efforts toward Yemen’s humanitarian crisis and ending the Houthis’ war against the government and a Saudi-led coalition.

Video shows U.S. Navy personnel aboard the fishing vessel, cutting open plastic-wrapped packages and revealing the weapons.

“U.S. Navy patrol coastal ships USS Tempest (PC 2) and USS Typhoon (PC 5) found the weapons during a search conducted by embarked U.S. Coast Guard personnel,” the Navy said. “The illicit weapons and ammunition were later transported to guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane (DDG 77) where they await final disposition.”

The Navy said that the stateless vessel’s five crew members identified themselves as Yemeni nationals. The Navy said they will be returned to Yemen.

“After removing the crew and illicit cargo, U.S. naval forces determined the stateless vessel was a hazard to navigation for commercial shipping and sank it,” the Navy said.

Service members from patrol coastal ship USS Typhoon inspect packages found on a stateless fishing vessel in the North Arabian Sea. (U.S. Navy/Zenger)

“U.S. naval forces regularly perform maritime security operations in the Middle East to ensure the free flow of legitimate trade and to disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and other unlawful activity,” the Navy said.

“U.S. Navy warships operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet region have seized approximately 8,700 illicit weapons in 2021.

“Guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) seized dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from a stateless vessel transiting the North Arabian Sea in May.

“In February, guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) seized a cache of weapons off the coast of Somalia, including thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and crew served weapons. The inventory also included barrels, stocks, optical scopes and weapon systems.”

The U.S. 5th Fleet’s area of operations encompasses approximately 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea, parts of the Indian Ocean and what the Navy said are “three critical choke points” at the Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal and Strait of Bab al Mandeb.

Edited by Judith Isacoff and Kristen Butler

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