A shipment of AK-47 type rifles was seized by a US Navy ship in the Arabian sea on August 27th. The dhow carrying the cargo was in distress. It wasn’t under power or under sail, and had no papers from any nation-state.
This seems to be fairly common occurrence in the area. The boarding team from the USS Jason Dunham found a thousand AK-style rifles. No mention was made of ammunition or rocket-propelled grenades, another common small arm in the area.
The skiff was determined to be stateless following a flag verification boarding, conducted in accordance with international law. Illicit cargo discovered by the Dunham’s visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team included over 1,000 weapons.
“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,” said Cmdr. John Hamilton, Dunham’s commanding officer. “Ensuring the free flow of commerce for legitimate traffic and securing the sea lanes of communication continue to be paramount to the U.S. Navy and its regional partners and allies, and I am proud of Jason Dunham’s Sailors for accomplishing the mission.”
Dunham located a dhow transferring covered packages to a skiff on Aug. 27. On Aug. 28, Dunham conducted a flag verification boarding and determined the skiff to be a stateless vessel. 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 (SOLAS) operation. The mariners were evaluated by the ship’s medical personnel and were uninjured.
The original source of the rifles isn’t known. The intended customers haven’t been mentioned in any of the reporting so far. The sailors from the distressed dhow were turned over to the Yemeni Coast Guard.
In reports dealing with similar arms shipments in 2016, it was reported the intended recipients were on the Iranian side of the conflict, and the arms were from the Iranians. In 2016, the sailors were released after the arms were confiscated. There were several seizures of arms in 2016. One of those included 21 .50 caliber machine guns.
From a 2016 navy.mil article:
MANAMA, Bahrain (NNS) — For the third time in recent weeks, international naval forces operating in the waters of the Arabian Sea seized a shipment of illicit arms March 28, which the United States assessed originated in Iran and was likely bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen.
The U.S. Navy Coastal Patrol ship USS Sirocco, operating as part of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, intercepted and seized the shipment of weapons hidden aboard a small, stateless dhow. The illicit cargo included 1,500 AK-47s, 200 RPG launchers and 21 .50 caliber machine guns.
The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Darwin intercepted a dhow Feb. 27, confiscating nearly 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 100 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 49 PKM general purpose machine guns, 39 PKM spare barrels and 20 60mm mortar tubes.
A March 20 seizure by the French Navy destroyer FS Provence yielded almost 2,000 AK-47 assault rifles, 64 Dragunov sniper rifles, nine anti-tank missiles and other associated equipment.
Forbes reported in 2017 that prices for the rifles in the area vary from $600 in Kurdish areas of Iraq to $1200 in Yemen. The ship’s cargo of 1000 AK-47 rifles represents about a half million to a million dollars in value.
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