The UK Royal Navy has seized an illegal weapons shipment from Iran in the Gulf of Oman during an operation supported by US forces, the US Central Command (Centcom) said on Thursday.
The Royal Navy frigate HMS Lancaster seized anti-tank guided missiles and missile components from a small boat that originated from Iran on February 23, Centcom said.
The operation was conducted after US forces provided airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to the UK Royal Navy, Centcom said.
They discovered packages that included Iranian versions of Russian 9M133 Kornet anti-tank guided missiles, known in Iran as “Dehlavieh", and medium-range ballistic missile components, Centcom said.
“This is the seventh illegal weapon or drug interdiction in the last three months and yet another example of Iran’s increasing malign maritime activity across the region,” said Vice Admiral Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command, US 5th Fleet and Combined Maritime Forces.
“We will continue to work with our partners in pursuing any destabilising activity that threatens regional maritime security and stability.”
The interdiction occurred along a route historically used to traffic weapons unlawfully to Yemen, Centcom said.
"This seizure by HMS Lancaster and the permanent presence of the Royal Navy in the Gulf region supports our commitment to uphold international law and tackle activity that threatens peace and security around the world," said British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in a statement.
The British Royal Navy later released its own statement, saying that one of its helicopters tracked the vessel before it was boarded.
"The vessel was also tracked by HMS Lancaster’s Wildcat helicopter. The smugglers initially ignored hails from the Royal Navy and attempted to navigate to Iranian territorial waters but were apprehended before they could do so," the navy said.
"In accordance with international law, a team of Royal Marines stopped and boarded the vessel. They discovered suspicious packages which were recovered to HMS Lancaster."
Iran's Foreign Ministry on Friday denied the reports, accusing the US and the UK of making false allegations and spreading lies. "Those countries are the biggest arms suppliers to crisis zones of the world," ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said.
Last year, US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Gridley, Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose and combined air assets led to Royal Navy forces seizing surface-to-air missiles and land-attack cruise-missile engines.
In the past three months, the US and partner maritime forces seized more than 5,000 weapons, 1.6 million rounds of ammunition, 7,000 proximity fuses for rockets, 2,100 kilograms of propellant used to launch rocket propelled grenades, 30 anti-tank guided missiles, medium-range ballistic missile components and $80 million worth of illegal drugs.