The U.S. Navy last week intercepted a fishing boat smuggling more than 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles from Iran to Yemen, the Pentagon revealed Tuesday.
The patrol coastal ship USS Chinook first discovered the vessel sailing in international waters in the Gulf of Oman on a route historically used to traffic illicit cargo to the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement.
A Navy boarding team was deployed and discovered a crew of six Yemeni nationals along with 2,116 AK-47s, the transfer of which to Houthi rebels is a violation of a United Nations Security Council resolution and international law, the Navy said.
“The illegal flow of weapons from Iran through international waterways has a destabilizing effect on the region,” U.S. Central Command head Gen. Michael Kurilla said in the release.
“We are committed to the security and stability of the region and the enforcement of international law,” Kurilla added. “Alongside our partner forces, CENTCOM will deter and interdict this kind of lethal material into the region whether it comes by air, land, or sea.”
Iran supports Houthi rebels in Yemen with weapons and other resources as the group continues its years-long civil war with the Saudi Arabia-supported Yemeni government. The U.S. previously supported Saudi-led offensive efforts in the region but withdrew its official support in 2021.
This is the third time in the past two months the Navy has intercepted fishing vessels in the Gulf of Oman smuggling lethal aid from Iran to Yemen.
On Nov. 8, guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans, USS Hurricane and U.S. Coast Guard ship USCGC John Scheuerman “intercepted more than 70 tons of ammonium perchlorate, a powerful oxidizer commonly used to make rocket and missile fuel, as well as 100 tons of urea fertilizer,” the Navy said.
And on Dec. 1, forces from expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller seized more than 50 tons of ammunition rounds, fuses and propellants for rockets from one ship.
The most recent shipment “is part of a continued pattern of destabilizing activity from Iran,” U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces Commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper said in a statement.
“These threats have our attention. We remain vigilant in detecting any maritime activity that impedes freedom of navigation or compromises regional security,” Cooper continued.
The U.S. military says it is in the process of repatriating the most recently seized Yemeni ship and its crew.