The seizure of an illegal weapons shipment late last month netted more than twice the number of smuggled automatic weapons originally estimated, the Navy announced today.
The guided-missile destroyer Jason Dunham boarded a stateless vessel in the Gulf of Aden Aug. 28 and captured the small arms shipment, initially estimated at more than 1,000 rifles. In a Wednesday news release, officials with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said the final tally totaled 2,521 AK-47s. It's still not clear where the shipment originated or where it was headed, officials said.
"As a part of our counter-trafficking mission, we are actively involved in searching for illegal weapons shipments of all kinds," Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander of NAVCENT, U.S. 5th Fleet, and the Combined Maritime Forces, said in a statement. "Ensuring the free flow of commerce for legitimate traffic and countering malign actors at sea continue to be paramount to the U.S. Navy and its regional partners and allies."
The major weapons seizure is the fifth since 2015 by U.S. and Combined Maritime Forces in the waters around the Middle East.
According to Navy officials, the Royal Australian Navy made two consecutive seizures in 2015 and 2016, intercepting two dhows. The first, in September 27, netted weapons including anti-tank guided munitions, tripods, launch tubes and launcher assemblies. The second, in February 2016, resulted in the confiscation of nearly 2,000 AK-47s as well as rocket-propelled grenade launchers, PKM machine guns and 60mm mortar tubes.
In a third seizure in March 2016, a French destroyer confiscated some 2,000 AK-47s, as well as Dragunov sniper rifles, anti-tank missiles and machine guns.
The most recent previous seizure was conducted by Navy coastal patrol ship Sirocco in March 2016, which boarded a dhow and took its 1,500 AK-47s as well as rocket-propelled grenade launchers and .50-caliber machine guns.
Navy officials say it's believed the previous seized shipments came from Iran and were intended for the Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Jason Dunham departed its Norfolk, Virginia homeport in early June for a scheduled deployment to the waters around the Middle East and Europe. On its deployment, it has previously conducted joint training operations with Egyptian forces and executed a variety of small-boat operations.
-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.