KEY POINTS

  • Though stateless, the vessel is reportedly coming from Iran
  • The vessel was carrying urea fertilizer, a key ingredient in  explosives
  • The same vessel was detained last February for carrying weapons

The U.S. Navy said it stopped a ship loaded with 40 tonnes of bomb-making materials in the Gulf Of Oman last Tuesday. The vessel was carrying urea fertilizer, a key ingredient in homemade improvised explosive devices, hidden on board.

The vessel, which reportedly had no flag, was sailing along a route historically used by the Yemeni Houthi militants to smuggle weapons, said a statement from Bahrain-based US 5th Fleet.

"Guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) and patrol coastal ship USS Chinook (PC 9) interdicted the stateless vessel transiting from Iran in waters outside of any state’s territorial sea along a route historically used to traffic weapons to the Houthis in Yemen."

"During a flag verification boarding and subsequent search, U.S. forces discovered 40 tons of urea fertilizer, a chemical compound with agricultural applications that are also known to be used as an explosive precursor," the statement released Sunday read.

According to the U.S. Navy, the vessel was the same stateless dhow that was detained last February off the coast of Somalia by the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill. It was then discovered to be carrying weapons.

The Navy had then seized thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers and crew-served weapons from the vessel. The inventory also included barrels, stocks, optical scopes and weapon systems.

The vessel, its cargo and five Yemeni crew members were transferred to Yemen Coast Guard officials Friday.

This comes as tensions simmer in Yemen following fighting between the Saudi-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. 

Though Iran denies arming the Houthis, UN experts say weapons used by the rebels share the same technical characteristics as that from Iran.

The U.S. Navy said it seized a large cache of assault rifles and ammunition smuggled by a fishing ship from Iran likely bound for war-ravaged Yemen.

Last month, the U.S. Navy patrol ships had detained another "stateless ship" in the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea off Oman and Pakistan. The sailors who boarded the vessel had found 1,400 Kalashnikov-style rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition then.

Meanwhile, reports said the UAE intercepted and destroyed two ballistic missiles that were fired by Yemen’s Houthi rebels over Abu Dhabi. This comes a week after another Houthi drone-and-missile attack on Abu Dhabi killed three civilians.

US Ship U.S. service members conduct a boarding on a stateless fishing vessel transiting international waters the Gulf of Oman as a rigid-hull inflatable boat and patrol coastal ship USS Chinook (PC 9) sail nearby, Photo: U.S. Navy photo