The US and international forces operating under US Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT), US 5th Fleet, and Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) have seized record amounts of illicit cargo during maritime interdictions in 2021.
Led by Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, the maritime organizations conducted more seizures in 2021 after increasing patrols in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.
CMF seized illegal drugs worth more than $193 million during counter-narcotics operations at sea in 2021. This is a higher total value than the drugs CMF interdicted in the previous four years combined, according to the officials.
On the other hand, US 5th Fleet warships seized approximately 8,700 illicit weapons in 2021, including 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles confiscated from a stateless fishing vessel in the North Arabian Sea.
The stateless vessel was assessed to have originated in Iran and transited international waters along a route historically used to traffic weapons unlawfully to the Houthis in Yemen.
Guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61) seized 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 grenade launchers from a stateless vessel transiting the North Arabian Sea in May.
In February, guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) seized a cache of weapons off the coast of Somalia, including thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and crew-served weapons, the US navy officials revealed. The inventory also included barrels, stocks, optical scopes and weapon systems.
Since mid-July, the US and international maritime forces under CMF have conducted more than 50 boardings of vessels suspected of smuggling illicit cargo in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea, resulting in 14 narcotics seizures and weapons seizures.
“We have enhanced our presence and vigilance across regional waters,” said Cooper. “This reflects our continued commitment to confront destabilizing activities that disrupt the rules-based international order which underlies maritime security in the Middle East.”
The US and international naval forces regularly conduct maritime security and counter-terrorism operations across the region to disrupt criminal and terrorist organizations and their related illicit activities, including the movement of personnel, weapons, narcotics, and charcoal. These efforts help ensure legitimate commercial shipping transits the region free from non-state threats, the naval forces concluded.