US Navy says it seized large cache of assault rifles and ammunition smuggled by fishing boat from Iran likely bound for war-ravaged Yemen
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The US Navy said it seized a large cache of assault rifles and ammunition smuggled by an Iranian fishing boat likely bound for war-ravaged Yemen.
U.S. Navy patrol vessels discovered the weapons aboard what the Navy described as a stateless fishing vessel in an operation that began Monday in the northern Arabian Sea off the coast of Oman and Pakistan. Sailors boarded the ship and found 1,400 Kalashnikov-type rifles and 226,600 rounds, as well as five Yemeni crew members.
This is just the latest ban amid the bitter war in Yemen pitting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels against a Saudi-led military coalition. Western countries and UN experts have repeatedly accused Iran of smuggling illicit weapons and technology into Yemen over the years, fueling the civil war and allowing the Houthis to fire missiles and drones over neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Iran denies having armed the Houthis despite evidence to the contrary.
In an unusually sharp move, the statement Wednesday evening by the Bahrain-based 5th Navy Fleet accused Iran of sending in the arms, saying the boat was sailing along a route “historically used for trafficking. ‘weapons illegally directed at the Houthis in Yemen “.
“The direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms to the Houthis violates UN Security Council resolutions and US sanctions,” the statement added.
The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the interception.
US Navy patrol vessels transferred the confiscated weapons from the guided-missile destroyer USS O’Kane before sinking the fishing vessel because of the “danger” it posed to commercial shipping. He said the Yemeni crew would be repatriated.
U.S. seizures of weapons destined for the war in Yemen, typically Kalashnikov rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, began in 2016 and continued on and off. Yemen is teeming with small arms that have been smuggled into poorly controlled ports during years of conflict.
The Navy’s 5th Fleet said it has confiscated some 8,700 illicit weapons so far this year in the 2.5 million square mile area it patrols, including the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf, from a strategic importance.
War in Yemen erupted in 2014, when the Houthis captured the capital of Sana’a and much of the north of the country. Saudi Arabia, along with the United Arab Emirates and other countries, launched a bombing campaign months later to restore the internationally recognized government and drive out the rebels.
The war killed some 130,000 people and created the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.