US Navy intercepts vessel smuggling explosive material in Gulf of Oman

Published: January 23, 2022

40 tons of urea fertilizer, which can be used to manufacture explosives, were seized by the US Navy.

The US Navy interdicted a fishing vessel carrying 40 tons of explosive material in the Gulf of Oman on Tuesday, with this being the second time the Navy has found this same vessel to be smuggling weapons or weapons materials in the region, the US 5th Fleet announced on Sunday.

Guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) and patrol coastal ship USS Chinook (PC 9) interdicted the vessel which was not flying under any flag as it was traveling from Iran in international waters along a route historically used to smuggle weapons to the Houthis in Yemen.

US forces discovered 40 tons of urea fertilizer, a compound that can be used for agricultural applications but can also be used to manufacture explosives, on the vessel.

The vessel, its cargo and five Yemeni crew members were transferred to Yemen Coast Guard officials on Friday.

The same exact vessel was caught in February 2021 carrying illicit weapons off the coast of Somalia. The weapons included thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and crew-served weapons.

In the incident in February 2021, two stateless dhows (a type of vessel) were seized by the USS Winston S. Churchill off the coast of Somalia in a two-day operation.

“US 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,” said a statement from the fleet on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) announced that the US and international forces operating under US NAVCENT, the 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) had seized record amounts of illicit cargo in maritime interdictions in 2021.

Over $193 million in illegal drugs were seized by CMF in counter-narcotics operations at sea in 2021, a higher total value than the drugs interdicted in the previous four years combined. CMF includes 34 nations and is headquartered in Bahrain.

About 8,700 illicit weapons were seized by the 5th Fleet in 2021, including 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles seized from a stateless fishing vessel in the North Arabian Sea in December. The vessel originated in Iran and transited a route historically used to transfer weapons to the Houthis in Yemen.

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