On December 20, the U.S. Navy seized some 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition from a fishing vessel in the northern Arabian Sea. The stateless vessel originated in Iran and was traveling along a route historically used to illicitly traffic weapons to Yemen’s Houthi rebels, which are supported by Iran. “The smuggling of arms from Iran to the Houthis represents a flagrant violation of the U.N. targeted arms embargo,” State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said. “Iran’s support for armed groups throughout the region threatens international and regional security, our forces, our diplomatic personnel and citizens in the region, as well as our partners in the region and elsewhere.”
U.S. Navy personnel removed the weapons and ammunition from the ship and planned to return the crew, including five Yemeni nationals, to Yemen. U.S. forces determined that the fishing vessel was a hazard to commercial shipping and sank it.
Related Material: Seizures of Iranian Weapons at Sea
Between 2015 and 2021, the United States and its allies intercepted at least eight shipments of weapons allegedly originating from Iran and headed to Yemen. The vessels were either unflagged dhows, wooden boats or fishing vessels. Their cargoes varied in size, and the weapons varied in lethality. The following are statements from Price and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price on Dec. 23, 2021
On December 20, the United States Navy 5th Fleet seized upwards of 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition from a vessel originating from Iran. This ship was on a route historically used to illegally smuggle weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. The smuggling of arms from Iran to the Houthis represents a flagrant violation of the UN targeted arms embargo and is yet another example of how malign Iranian activity is prolonging the war in Yemen. Iran’s support for armed groups throughout the region threatens international and regional security, our forces, our diplomatic personnel and citizens in the region, as well as our partners in the region and elsewhere.
This Administration is committed to countering this threat from Iran. The U.S. seized dozens of anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of assault rifles, and hundreds of machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers from similar vessels in both May and February of this year.
The illegal flow of weapons to Yemen is enabling the brutal Houthi offensive against Marib, increasing the suffering of civilians. Further fighting – whether in Marib or elsewhere – will only bring more suffering. The Yemeni parties must reach a political settlement together to end the war.
U.S. Naval Forces Central Command / U.S. 5th Fleet
U.S. Navy Seizes 1,400 Assault Rifles During Illicit Weapons Interdiction
U.S. 5th Fleet ships seized approximately 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition from a stateless fishing vessel during a flag verification boarding in accordance with customary international law in the North Arabian Sea, Dec. 20.
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 illicit weapons and ammunition were later transported to guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane (DDG 77) where they await final disposition.
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 vessel’s five crew members identified themselves as Yemeni nationals and 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.
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. 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 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 three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal and Strait of Bab al Mandeb.