Boats with urea, drugs seized in Gulf waters

The smuggled weapons have helped the Houthis gain an edge against the Saudi-led coalition in the seven-year war


Published: Sun 23 Jan 2022, 9:50 PM

The US Navy says it seized a boat in the Gulf of Oman carrying fertiliser used to make explosives. The same ship was caught last year smuggling weapons to Yemen.

The US Navy announced on Sunday it seized a boat in the Gulf of Oman carrying fertiliser used to make explosives. The British royal navy said it confiscated 1,041kg of illegal drugs in the same waters.

The interdictions were just the latest in the volatile waters of the Arabian Gulf as American and British authorities step up seizures of contraband during the grinding conflict in Yemen and ongoing drug trafficking in the region.

The US Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet said its guided-missile destroyer USS Cole and patrol ships halted and searched the sailboat, a stateless fishing dhow, that was sailing from Iran on a well-worn maritime arms smuggling route to war-ravaged Yemen last Tuesday. US forces found 40 tonnes of urea fertiliser, known to be a key ingredient in homemade improvised explosive devices, hidden onboard.

Authorities said the vessel had been previously seized off the coast of Somalia and found last year to be loaded with thousands of assault rifles and rocket launchers, among other weapons.

UN experts say weapons with such technical characteristics likely come from Iran to support the Houthi rebels. The Navy turned over the vessel, cargo and Yemeni crew to Yemen’s coast guard earlier this week.

Yemen is awash with small arms that have been smuggled into the country’s poorly controlled ports over years of conflict. Violence has drastically escalated over the past week amid stalled international attempts at brokering peace.


Officials also revealed on Sunday that a British royal navy vessel had seized a large quantity of illegal drugs valued at some $26 million from a boat sailing through the Gulf of Oman on January 15.

The HMS Montrose confiscated 663kg of heroin, 87kg of methamphetamine and 291kg of hashish and marijuana, the joint maritime task force said in a statement. The task force did not elaborate on where the drugs came from, who manufactured them or their ultimate destination. But Iran over the last decade has seen an explosion in the use of methamphetamine, known locally as “shisheh” or “glass” in Farsi, which has bled into neighbouring countries.

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