A LARGE weapons cache made up of more than 1,000 assault rifles has been seized near the Gulf of Aden.
The shipment of AK-47 automatic rifles was found onboard a skiff by sailors from USS Jason Dunham, a guided missile destroyer operating under the Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain.
The skiff was discovered to be stateless following a flag verification boarding that was conducted in accordance with international law, according to a US Navy statement.
“The illicit cargo discovered by the Dunham’s visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team included over 1,000 weapons,” said USS Jason Dunham commanding officer Commodore John Hamilton.
“Our ship routinely conducts maritime security operations with our highly-trained VBSS team incorporating both on and off ship intelligence assets to help locate vessels.
“Ensuring the free flow of commerce for legitimate traffic and securing the sea lanes of communication continue to be paramount to the US Navy and its regional partners and allies, and I am proud of Jason Dunham’s sailors for accomplishing the mission.”
USS Jason Dunham’s homeport is Naval Station Norfolk and is part of the US Navy’s Taskforce 55, which conducts maritime security operations in support of regional security and stability.
Its responsibilities include planning and executing a robust regional engagement programme with coalition forces from the GCC nations, Carrier Strike Group 50 and allied surface warfare assets deployed to the Arabian Gulf.
“Dunham located a dhow transferring covered packages to a skiff on Monday and the next day it conducted a flag verification boarding and determined the skiff to be a stateless vessel,” said the statement.
“Subsequently, the boarding team discovered a cache of over 1,000 AK-47 automatic rifles.
“The skiff’s engines were inoperable, and the distressed mariners were brought aboard Dunham as part of a safety-of-life-at-sea operation.
“The mariners were evaluated by the ship’s medical personnel and were uninjured.
“The original source of the weapons has not yet been identified (and the) weapons are in US custody awaiting final disposition.
“The mariners were transferred to the Yemeni Coastguard.”
The US Fifth Fleet area of operations encompasses nearly 2.5 million square miles of water area and includes the Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman, Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean.
The region is comprised of 20 countries and includes three critical choke points at the Strait of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab Al Mandeb at the southern tip of Yemen.