US Navy Seizes Over 170 Tons of Hazardous Materials Smuggled to Yemen

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
November 15, 2022Asia & Pacific
US Navy Seizes Over 170 Tons of Hazardous Materials Smuggled to Yemen
Guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans and patrol coastal ship USS Hurricane sail in the background as U.S. Sailors inventory a large quantity of urea fertilizer and ammonium perchlorate discovered on board a fishing vessel intercepted by naval forces while transiting international waters in the Gulf of Oman on Nov. 9, 2022. (Courtesy of U.S. Navy by Sonar Technician "Surface" 1st Class Kevin Frus)

The U.S. Navy found a massive volume of missile fuel and type of explosive material often used in terrorism aboard a vessel bound for Yemen from Iran, the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on Tuesday.

CENTCOM said in a statement that its forces had interdicted a stateless sailing dhow on Nov. 8 that appeared to be smuggling illicit weapons and drugs. The dhow originated from Iran and was sailing on a well-worn maritime arms smuggling route to war-ravaged Yemen.

Sailors of the U.S. Coast Guard ship USCGC John Scheuerman and guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans conducted a comprehensive search of the vessel and discovered bags that were identified as two hazardous chemicals.

Following a weeklong search effort to verify the explosives, naval forces said the find included 100 tons of urea fertilizer, which is known to be a key ingredient in homemade improvised explosive devices, as well as more than 70 tons of ammonium perchlorate, a compound used in making fuel that powers rockets and missiles, which were found hidden on the ship.

“This was a massive amount of explosive material, enough to fuel more than a dozen medium-range ballistic missiles depending on the size,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces. “The unlawful transfer of lethal aid from Iran does not go unnoticed. It is irresponsible, dangerous and leads to violence and instability across the Middle East.”

Vessel Destroyed Over Potential Risk

Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a U.S. Navy spokesman, told The Associated Press that the ship was deemed suspicious because of “multiple means,” including its traveling route, but he declined to elaborate further.

“Given the fact it was on a route usually used to smuggle illicit weapons and drugs from Iran to Yemen really tells you what you need to know,” Hawkins said. “It clearly wasn’t intended for good.”

Naval forces aboard USS The Sullivans handed over the four Yemeni crew members to the Yemen Coast Guard in the Gulf of Adan. They were transferred to civil authorities for repatriation on Tuesday.

The dhow was so weighted down by the shipment that it posed a hazard to nearby shipping in the Gulf of Oman, a route that leads from the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, out to the Indian Ocean.

NTD Photo
In this photo released by the U.S. Navy, sailors intercept a dhow in the Gulf of Oman on Nov. 8, 2022. (Lt. Kelly Harris/U.S. Navy via AP)

The ship was so dangerous, the Navy ended up sinking it in the Gulf of Oman with much of the material still on board.

“This type of shipment and just the massive volume of explosive material is a serious concern because it is destabilizing,” Hawkins said. “The unlawful transport of weapons from Iran to Yemen leads to instability and violence.”

One of the Pentagon’s 11 unified combatant commands, CENTCOM is responsible for protecting U.S. security interests in an area stretching from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia.

“Alongside our partner forces, CENTCOM is committed to security and stability of the region and to deterring the illegal and destabilizing flow of explosive material into the region over land, in the air, and at sea,” Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla said in a Nov. 15 statement.

The supply, sale, or transfer of weapons to the Houthis, an insurgency in Yemen, violates the U.N. Security Council Resolution 2216 and international law.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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