US Navy seizes 40 tons of key bomb ingredient on suspected Iranian boat heading for rebels in Yemen

US forces found 40 tons of urea fertiliser, known to be a key ingredient in homemade improvised explosive devices, hidden on board the boat off the Golf of Oman. UN experts say weapons probably come from Iran to support the Houthi rebels in Yemen.

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The US Navy has seized a boat in the Gulf of Oman carrying fertiliser used to make explosives while the Royal Navy has confiscated 1,000kg of illegal drugs in the same waters.

The interceptions were the latest in the Persian Gulf as American and British authorities step up seizures of contraband amid the conflict in Yemen and ongoing drug trafficking.

The US Navy’s Middle East-based 5th Fleet said its guided-missile destroyer USS Cole and patrol ships halted and searched the sailing boat, a stateless fishing dhow, that was sailing from Iran on a well-known maritime arms smuggling route to war-ravaged Yemen last Tuesday.

US forces found 40 tons of urea fertiliser, known to be a key ingredient in homemade improvised explosive devices, hidden on board.

Authorities said the vessel had been previously seized off the coast of Somalia and found last year to be loaded with thousands of assault rifles and rocket launchers, among other weapons.

UN experts say weapons with such technical characteristics probably come from Iran to support the Houthi rebels.

The Navy turned over the vessel, cargo and Yemeni crew to Yemen’s coastguard earlier this week.

Yemen is awash with small arms that have been smuggled into the country’s poorly controlled ports over years of conflict.

Since 2015, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have been battling a Saudi-led military coalition for control of the nation.

Iran says it politically supports the rebels but denies arming them, despite evidence to the contrary.

The smuggled weapons have helped the Houthis gain an edge against the Saudi-led coalition in the seven-year war.

Violence has drastically escalated over the past week amid stalled international attempts at brokering peace.

Following a deadly drone attack claimed by the rebels on Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi warplanes pounded the northern rebel-held province of Saada, hitting a prison and killing over 80 detainees.

Officials also revealed on Sunday that a Royal Navy vessel had seized a large quantity of illegal drugs valued at some 26 million dollar from a boat sailing through the Gulf of Oman on January 15.

The HMS Montrose confiscated 663 kilograms of heroin, 87 kilograms of methamphetamine and 291 kilograms of hashish and marijuana, the joint maritime task force said.

The task force did not elaborate on where the drugs came from, who manufactured them or their ultimate destination.

But Iran over the last decade has seen an explosion in the use of methamphetamine, known locally as “shisheh” or “glass” in Farsi, which has bled into neighbouring countries.