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Royal Navy Frigate Busts Shipment of Iranian Missile Components

Royal Navy bust
Image courtesy Royal Navy

Published Mar 2, 2023 12:32 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Royal Navy frigate HMS Lancaster has seized a cargo of ballistic missile components and other weaponry from a high-speed boat in the Gulf of Oman, the latest in a series of recent arms smuggling interdictions targeting Iranian shipments to Yemen. 

On Feb. 23, an American drone detected a small craft navigating in international waters of the Gulf of Oman in the dark of night. The boat had a tarpaulin-covered cargo occupying the bow, potentially indicative of smuggling. HMS Lancaster joined the pursuit and deployed her helicopter to give chase. 

Despite demands to halt and prepare for boarding, the high speed craft changed course and headed for Iranian territorial seas. Lancaster stopped and intercepted the suspicious boat before it could cross over the boundary line. The frigate's crew lowered away two RIBs with a boarding party of Royal Marines, who corralled and searched the speedboat. 

The search team found a cache of weapons in several packages on board. After an inspection by EOD specialists to determine whether the illicit cargo was safe to bring aboard, the team transferred the goods over to HMS Lancaster for more thorough analysis. The goods included Iranian-made Dehlavieh antitank missiles, along with rocket parts that U.S. 5th Fleet identified as steering vanes and impact sensor nose caps for medium-range ballistic missiles. 

All images courtesy Royal Navy

The missile components included rocket steering vanes and impact sensor caps (Illustration courtesy U.S. 5th Fleet)

“This boarding was a fantastic team effort, and I’m really proud of the way the whole ship’s company worked together to achieve such a brilliant result," said Cmdr. Paul Irving, CO of HMS Lancaster

HMS Lancaster's bust is the latest in a series of high-profile interdictions on the Iran-to-Yemen smuggling route. On January 15, a French warship intercepted 3,000 AK-style rifles and 20 antitank missiles from a vessel off the coast of Yemen. On January 6, the USS Chinook discovered more than 2,000 assault rifles aboard a fishing vessel crewed by Yemeni nationals in the Gulf of Oman. In November, USS The Sullivans and the fast response cutter USCGC John Scheuerman intercepted a dhow carrying 170 tonnes of explosives and rocket propellant.

"The unlawful transfer of lethal aid from Iran does not go unnoticed. It is irresponsible, dangerous, and leads to violence and instability across the Middle East," 5th Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper told NBC last year.

Though Tehran denies shippng weapons to Yemen, U.S.-allied forces regularly intercept Iranian missile components and arms en route to the Houthi rebel alliance, which uses these supplies in its conflict with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the Yemeni government. The United States once supplied the Saudi / UAE side with advanced weaponry, parts and munitions, but the Biden administration halted offensive weapons sales to the two nations last year.