Australian Navy Intercepts Fishing Boat Carrying 2,000 Guns And Ammunition To Somalia – Vessel A Part Of Major Illegal Arms Trade?

A huge cache of 2,000 guns was found on a fishing boat by the Australian Navy. It is believed the Somalia-bound dinghy could be part of major illegal arms trade, meant to supply arms to the war-torn country.

A fishing boat ferrying more than 2,000 weapons, hidden under fishing nets, was intercepted by Australian Navy. The weapons cache included assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and mortar tubes. The boat was headed to Somalia and may be part of a larger network of vessels that regularly supply arms to the country that has been barred from buying weapons.

Australian frigate HMAS Darwin discovered the cache late last month, while it was combing the oceans as part of the international maritime force, which was deployed to keep such illegal arms trade in check. The frigate is a part of the Combined Task Force 150 that has been tasked with counter-terrorism operations, curbing piracy, and drug smuggling.

The navy usually patrols waters around the Indian Ocean. However, the fishing boat hauling the cache of arms was intercepted about 195 miles off the coast of Oman. This indicates that the ship might have passed by the coast of Yemen, where there’s ongoing regional conflict. Given the fact that majority of the crew was Iranian, the U.S. Navy believes the fishing boat might have originated from Iran, reported Las Vegas NV Blog.

(Photo by Royal Australian Navy)

The United Nations has a decades-long arms embargo in place against Somalia, which has been mired in conflict since civil war broke out in 1991, reported Geeska Afrika Online. UN sanctions authorize the interception of weapons heading for Somalia, where the Islamist militant group al-Shabab is active, reported BBC. The U.N Security Council eased some of the embargo restrictions in 2013. To assist Western-backed government in Mogadishu in getting an upper hand in the battle against Islamist al Shabaab insurgents, the U.N. allowed the country to buy light weapons to bolster its armed forces.

It isn’t immediately clear who was transporting the weapons. The consignment of the weapons was worth a total of $2 million. Experts feel the weapons may have been meant for al-Shabab. The group is highly active in the region, and has strong affiliations with al-Qaeda. It routinely conducts terrorist activities in the region in the hopes of destabilizing and eventually collapsing the local government.

There have been many incidents of small battles between government forces and al-Shabab militants. Moreover, the group routinely conducts suicide bombings and car bombings as well. The group recently attempted to capture a hotel frequented by foreigners and press. The militant group intends to establish an Islamic country based on the radicalized version of the sharia law. The group does arm its militias without the approval of the central government and as such, arms trade is pretty common.

Australia Navy Intercepts Fishing Boat Carrying 2,000 Guns And Ammunition To Somalia – Vessel A Part Of Major Illegal Arms Trade?
(Photo by Royal Australian Navy)

Confirming the seizure of the guns and weapons, the Australian Navy released a statement.

“The weapons were seized under United Nations sanctions, which authorize interdiction on the high seas of illicit weapons destined for Somalia”

The statement mentioned that among the recovered weapons were 1,989 AK-47 assault rifles, 100 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 49 PKM machine guns, 39 PKM spare barrels, and 20 mortar tubes, reported NBC News. The navy confirmed its officials felt suspicious about the fishing boat and boarded it to verify which flag it was sailing under. While they managed to recover the weapons, which were crudely hidden under fishing nets, the authorities weren’t able to determine the country of origin of the boat.

The guns and the weapons are expected to be transferred to U.S. custody for further analysis and disposal.

While the Australian Navy has the right to intercept vessels it suspects are ferrying illegal arms, astonishingly, the task force doesn’t have any authority to detain traffickers in international waters. Hence, after seizing the arms, the authorities had no choice but to release the crew of the shipping boat.

[Photo by ABIS Sarah Ebsworth/Australian Department of Defense]