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Record Seizures of Drugs and Weapons in Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman

record seizures of weapons and drugs by US 5th Fleet
Weapons seized in May 2021 displayed aboard the USS Monterey (U.S. Naval Forces Central Command / U.S. 5th Fleet photo)

Published Jan 18, 2022 7:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

U.S. and international forces operating under U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, U.S. 5th Fleet, and Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) seized record amounts of illicit cargo including illegal drugs and illicit weapons during maritime interdictions in 2021. The joint forces credited their increased patrols in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea contributing to the increased seizures, including more than $193 million in illegal drugs and large caches of weapons being smuggled across the region.

Since mid-July alone, the U.S. and international maritime forces under CMF headquartered in Bahrain with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and U.S. 5th Fleet conducted more than 50 boardings of vessels suspected of smuggling illicit cargo in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. This resulted in 14 narcotics seizures and the large weapons seizure on December 20, 2021.

“We have enhanced our presence and vigilance across regional waters,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper who leads the maritime efforts across the region. “This reflects our continued commitment to confront destabilizing activities that disrupt the rules-based international order which underlies maritime security in the Middle East.”

CMF seized a total of more than $193 million (at regional wholesale prices) of illegal drugs during counter-narcotics operations at sea in 2021. According to the command, this is a higher total value than the drugs CMF interdicted in the previous four years combined. The guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson made one of the larger interceptions at the beginning of December, a shipment of more than 900 kilos of narcotics from a stateless dhow in the Arabian Sea. The French frigate Floréal captured methamphetamine, heroin, and hashish in November, and in October, the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose seized 458 kilos of methamphetamine, setting a new record for the task force.

The U.S. 5th Fleet warships seized approximately 8,700 illicit weapons in 2021. One of the largest, single seizures of weapons came in mid-December when the patrol ships USS Tempest and USS Typhoon encountered the boat in the northern reaches of the Arabian Sea. The stateless vessel was believed to have originated in Iran and transited international waters likely heading to the Houthis in Yemen. On board, the Navy confiscated 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey in May 2021 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. Similarly, in February, the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill seized a cache of weapons off the coast of Somalia, including AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. 

CMF is the world’s largest multinational naval partnership and includes 34 nations. The U.S. and international naval forces regularly conduct maritime security and counter-terrorism operations across the region to disrupt criminal and terrorist organizations, including the movement of personnel, weapons, narcotics, and charcoal.