LONDON -- Britain on Thursday (July 7) said one of its warships on patrol in the Gulf earlier this year seized advanced weaponry being smuggled from Iran towards Yemen, contravening a United Nations (UN) Security Council resolution.
The ship, HMS Montrose, intercepted speedboats carrying surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles while on routine patrols on two occasions in January and February, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said.
The speedboats were being operated by smugglers in international waters south of Iran, in the first instance of a UK warship interdicting vessels carrying such sophisticated weapons from the country, it added.
The illicit cargo was spotted on January 28 by a Wildcat helicopter equipped with sophisticated radar systems launched from the Montrose, according to the MoD.
The second operation, on February 25, also involved co-ordinated efforts with a US Navy destroyer, the USS Gridley, which deployed an MH-60 Seahawk helicopter "to provide critical overwatch", the ministry said.
"We have a decades-long strategic relationship with the Royal Navy," said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, the US Navy's 5th Fleet and the multinational Combined Maritime Forces (CMF).
"Our continued collaboration on maritime interdictions in the Middle East reflects our extraordinary partnership and strong commitment to regional security and stability," Cooper said.
Missiles used by the Houthis
The weapons were seized along routes historically used to traffic weapons unlawfully to Yemen, the US Navy said.
The seizures were spearheaded by British Royal Marines, who approached the speedboats on two inflatable vessels and secured and searched them, the MoD said.
The dozens of packages containing the advanced weaponry were discovered and confiscated, before being taken to Britain for technical analysis.
The analysis found they contained multiple rocket engines for the Iranian-produced 351 land attack cruise missile and 358 surface-to-air missiles, the MoD said.
The 351 is a cruise missile with a range of 1,000km that is regularly used by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen to strike targets in Saudi Arabia.
Missiles of this type were fired into Abu Dhabi in January, killing three civilians.
The MoD and the US Navy said the shipment contravened UN Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 2216, adopted in 2015 to prevent support for the Houthis, and international law.
Commitment to maritime security
"The UK will continue to work in support of an enduring peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can transit safely without threat of disruption," UK armed forces minister James Heappey said in a statement.
"These interdictions demonstrate the professionalism and commitment of the Royal Navy to promoting stability in this region," said HMS Montrose commander Claire Thompson.
She commended the Royal Navy sailors, aircrew and Royal Marines involved in such endeavours, pointing to "the significant positive impact they are having in maintaining the international rules-based order at sea".
US and UK naval forces regularly conduct regional maritime security operations to disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that can support terrorism and other unlawful activity.
US Navy warships operating in the Middle East seized nearly 9,000 illicit weapons in 2021.
US NAVCENT and the UK Maritime Component Command are headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, and regularly partner to foster regional maritime co-operation, safeguard key waterways and uphold international rules-based order.
Both nations are members of the 38-nation CMF -- the world's largest multinational maritime partnership.