The US Navy says it seized a huge cache of illicit Russian and Chinese weapons from a stateless vessel sailing in international waters of the northern Arabian Sea.
The US Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, said on Sunday the guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey intercepted the boat and discovered the cargo during a routine boarding in a two-day operation on May 6-7.
“The cache of weapons included 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 grenades launchers,” it said in a statement. The arms are in US custody and their source and intended destination is under investigation, it said.
The Fifth Fleet said the Monterey was in operation for 36 hours, providing security for boarding teams.
“After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness and after questioning its crew was provided food and water before being released.” A dhow is a traditional sailing ship in the Middle East.
The statement did not indicate where the vessel may have come from, but said the US Navy’s regular patrols in the region “disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and unlawful activity”.
It was the latest such interdiction by American sailors amid the long-running war in Yemen. The Navy did not identify where it believed the shipment originated.
However, the assortment of arms on board the dhow mirrored other shipments seized by the US and allied forces in the region that later were described to be heading to Yemen, where Iran-aligned Houthi rebels have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition for control of the country since 2015.
Yemen is awash with small arms that have been smuggled into poorly controlled ports over years of conflict.