Home Middle East US, British vessels seize weapons, drugs in separate ops in Gulf of...

US, British vessels seize weapons, drugs in separate ops in Gulf of Oman

Dhow transporting urea fertilizer in Gulf of Oman
Guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) transfers control of a stateless fishing vessel to the Yemen Coast Guard in the Gulf of Oman, Jan. 21. Photo: US Navy

US Navy ships operating in the Middle East have seized a stateless dhow carrying illicit weapons in the Gulf of Oman, while a British frigate seized over 1 ton of drugs in a separate operation in the region.

On January 18, US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) and patrol coastal ship USS Chinook (PC 9) interdicted a stateless vessel transiting from Iran in waters outside of any state’s territorial sea along a route historically used to traffic weapons to the Houthis in Yemen.

During a flag verification boarding and subsequent search, US forces discovered 40 tons of urea fertilizer, a chemical compound with agricultural applications that is also known to be used as an explosive precursor.

The vessel was the same stateless dhow interdicted in February 2021 off the coast of Somalia by guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) and discovered to be carrying weapons. Among the cache of weapons seized during the February 2021 interdiction were 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.

Following the January 18 interdiction, the US Navy transferred the vessel, cargo and five Yemeni crewmembers to Yemen Coast Guard officials on January 21.

In a separate operation in the region three days prior, Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose was operating as part of the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) when it seized over 1 ton of illicit drugs in the Gulf of Oman. The UK defense ministry estimated the value of the seizure at 15 million pounds.

Photo: Royal Navy

In an operation lasting almost 10 hours, a team from the warship boarded a suspect in international waters off the coast of Oman and seized 663kg of heroin, 87kg of methamphetamine and 291kg of hashish and marijuana.

A Navy team including Royal Marines approached the small vessel on two rigid hulled inflatable boats before securing and searching the vessel.

The illicit substances were then brought back to HMS Montrose for analysis and destroyed.

“The Royal Navy continue to step forward with our partners in the Combined Maritime Forces to stamp out the smuggling of illegal substances,” UK defense secretary Ben Wallace said.

“As a result of this successful bust, our streets our safer and have choked off a huge source of finance to international organized crime groups.”

This is the largest Royal Navy drugs bust since HMS Montrose seized 2.4 tons of illicit substances in the Arabian Sea last year.

HMS Montrose has been deployed to the region since early 2019, actively supporting maritime security operations and multi-national task forces in the Middle East, and protecting the interests of the United Kingdom and its allies.

The warship regularly works alongside international partners which make up the 34-nation coalition CMF, which was led by the Royal New Zealand Navy at the time of the drugs bust. The leadership role has now passed to the Pakistan Navy.

The Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) is a multinational maritime partnership, which exists to counter illicit non-state actors.

“This latest interdiction, CTF 150’s first of 2022, is a further demonstration in the value of collaboration by CMF assets and follows a record-breaking year for the task force’s counter-narcotics operations,” Royal New Zealand Navy Captain Brendon Clark, Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 said.