The U.S. Navy reported that it has seized an arms shipment of thousands of Chinese and Russian assault weapons, machine guns, and sniper rifles hidden aboard a ship in the Arabian Sea. They were apparently bound for Yemen to support the country’s Houthi rebels.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey intercepted a dhow, a traditional Arabian Sea sailing vessel, and discovered the cargo during a routine boarding in a two-day operation that began on May 6, according to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

The Navy’s investigation team learned from interviewing the crew and assessing the weapons found, that the vessel came from Iran, said a Navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Iran continues to arm the Houthi rebels despite a UN embargo. In the past, Tehran has frequently denied that it has been supplying the rebels.

A Navy Seahawk helicopter approaches a dhow that was en route to Yemen carrying a cache of illegal weapons. (U.S. Navy)
Navy Seahawk helicopter approaches a dhow that was en route to Yemen with a cache of illegal weapons. (U.S. Navy)

“The cache of weapons included dozens of advanced Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles, thousands of Chinese Type 56 assault rifles, and hundreds of PKM machine guns, sniper rifles, and rocket-propelled grenades launchers,” the Fifth Fleet said in its statement.

The U.S. Navy’s regular patrols in the region “disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and unlawful activity.” The Navy has seized other illicit arms shipments headed for Yemen in the past, enforcing the UN’s arms embargo on the embattled country.

The operation took 36 hours with the Monterey providing security for the boarding teams. “After all illicit cargo was removed, the dhow was assessed for seaworthiness and after questioning its crew was provided food and water before being released.”

Several other arms seizures have taken place during the Yemeni civil war.

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Yemen Is One of the World’s Worst Humanitarian Crises

This latest arms seizure comes as the U.S. and the UN try to end a conflict that created one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters.

The Houthi rebels that are supported, armed, and advised by Iran have been fighting the internationally recognized government of Yemen and the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates since 2015. The U.S. supported the Saudi effort with aerial refueling, intelligence support, and arms shipments until the Biden administration froze all offensive military aid in January

The Houthis are currently trying to take Marib city and the rich oil fields bordering it. They have also launched drone attacks at Saudi Arabian oil refineries and airports. 

The World Food Program (WFP) projected in March 2021 that if the war and the Saudi-led blockade continue, more than 400,000 Yemeni children under five years old could die from acute malnutrition before the end of the year as the blockade devastates the nation.