On February 12, two vessels were boarded and searched off the coast of Somalia. The boarding force, which had deployed from the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81), searched the vessels and found a cache of weapons. According to a brief by the Department of Defense, the cache consisted of “thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers (RPGs), and crew-served weapons.” 

According to the report, the Churchill’s VBSS (Visit, Board, Search and Seizure) team discovered the weapons while conducting a flag verification boarding. Such boardings are common in the Arabian Sea where smugglers use unmarked dhows — local motorized boats with medium cargo capacity — to move illegal weapons, explosives, and military equipment. 

Russian Weapons found off the Somali Coast
The guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81), in accordance with international law, boarded a stateless dhow off the coast of Somalia and interdicted an illicit shipment of weapons and weapon components, Feb. 12. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Louis Thompson Staats IV)

Weapons smugglers in the Arabian Sea are routinely detained by the U.S. and other regional allies in an effort to choke off the flow of weapons into the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. In most cases, the weapons originate from Iran. 

Last February, the Normandy, a U.S. Navy Guided Missile Cruiser, interdicted a dhow containing advanced weapons systems headed for Yemen. That cache contained surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank guided missiles, Iranian thermal imaging scopes, Iranian-made components for drones, and various munitions and weapons parts, according to a Military Times report.