On Nov. 9, 2022, the guided-missile destroyer The Sullivans (DDG 68) and patrol coastal ship Hurricane (PC 3) sail in the background as sailors inventory a large quantity of urea fertilizer and ammonium perchlorate discovered on board a fishing vessel intercepted in the Gulf of Oman the previous day. US Navy photo by Sonar Technician (Surface) 1st Class Kevin Frus.
A pair of US warships last week interdicted smugglers in the Gulf of Oman carrying explosives from Iran to Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to 5th Fleet officials.
“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, the commander of US Naval Forces Central Command and the 5th Fleet, in a statement emailed to Coffee or Die Magazine. “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.”
The seizure of 70 tons of ammonium perchlorate Tuesday, Nov. 8, by the US Navy’s guided-missile destroyer The Sullivans and the Coast Guard cutter John Scheuerman marked the first time the 5th Fleet had interdicted the powerful oxidizer, which is often used to make explosives and rocket fuel.
The morning search also uncovered 100 tons of urea fertilizer, a compound with dual uses for agriculture and, in its nitrate form, explosives.
On Nov. 9, 2022, sailors from guided-missile destroyer The Sullivans inventory a large quantity of urea fertilizer and ammonium perchlorate discovered on a fishing vessel intercepted by US forces while transiting international waters in the Gulf of Oman the previous day. US Navy photo by Sonar Technician (Surface) 1st Class Kevin Frus.
It’s not the first time US warships have seized contraband urea.
On Jan. 18, the guided-missile destroyer Cole and patrol coastal ship Chinook confiscated 40 tons of the fertilizer off a fishing boat in the Gulf of Oman that previously had been caught trafficking weapons to Somalia.
The fishing boat boarded on Nov. 8 also drew the patrol coastal ship Hurricane and Navy explosive ordnance disposal technicians from the 5th Fleet’s Task Force 56. Navy officials said that after cataloging the explosive materials for five days, US forces sank the fishing boat because it had become “a hazard to navigation for commercial shipping.”
US 5th Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Tim Hawkins told Coffee or Die the boarding party found no small arms or narcotics on board the fishing boat. Both are also routinely smuggled in the Gulf of Oman.
In the Gulf of Oman, US forces approach a fishing vessel transiting international waters Nov. 8, 2022. Officials said it was carrying explosive material bound from Iran for Yemen. US Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Kelly Harris.
Hawkins added that the cargo of explosive material and precursor fertilizer went down with the vessel.
On Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden, the crew of The Sullivans repatriated four Yemeni mariners from the fishing boat to the Yemen Coast Guard.
All transfers of weapons, money, and explosives to Iran-backed Houthi rebels violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 2216.
“Alongside our partner forces, CENTCOM is committed to security and stability of the region and to deterring the illegal and destabilizing flow of lethal material into the region over land, in the air, and the sea,” said Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, the commander of US Central Command, in a statement emailed to Coffee or Die.
A large quantity of urea fertilizer and ammonium perchlorate sit in a cargo compartment on board a fishing vessel intercepted by US forces while transiting international waters in the Gulf of Oman, Nov. 8, 2022. US Navy photo.
Iranian state agencies and their official press outlets have remained silent about the latest smuggling interdiction by US forces in the Gulf of Oman.
But they've condemned as an "act of piracy" a Saudi-led flotilla's seizure of a Panamanian-flagged diesel oil tanker, Red Ruby, off the Yemeni port of Hudaydah last week.
The warships also prevented two tanks, Fos Energy and Princess Halimah, from entering the port, Iranian officials said.
The Houthi movement's Ansar Allah press office also has not mentioned the latest seizure in the Gulf of Oman, instead concentrating fire on the US ambassador's Wednesday visit to Yemen's eastern Hadharmout Governorate.
"Countries such as the United States, which funds and supports the aggression on Yemen, can never think of reconciling with the Yemeni people," an Ansar Allah statement read. "The Yemeni people strongly reject any US actions toward Yemen, whether declared or undeclared."
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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