Royal Navy’s seizure of smuggled Iranian missiles in the Gulf of Aden revealed


The Royal Navy warship HMS Montrose earlier this year seized dozens of packages containing advanced weaponry, including surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles that were being smuggled from Iran to Yemen, the UK Ministry of Defence has revealed.

In early 2022, whilst on routine maritime security operations, HMS Montrose seized Iranian weapons from speedboats being operated by smugglers in international waters south of Iran. The weapons seized included surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles, in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 2216 (2015), the UK Ministry of Defence said on 7 July in what it said was the first time a British Naval warship has interdicted a vessel carrying such sophisticated weapons from Iran.

The seizures, which occurred on 28 January and 25 February, took place in the early hours of the morning. HMS Montrose’s Wildcat helicopter was scanning for vessels smuggling illicit goods. The helicopter crew spotted small vessels moving at speed away from the Iranian coast.

During the February interdiction, United States Navy destroyer USS Gridley supported efforts by deploying a Seahawk helicopter to provide critical overwatch during the operation. On both occasions, the Wildcat helicopter pursued the vessels and reported back to HMS Montrose that they could see suspicious cargo on deck.

A team of Royal Marines approached the vessels on two Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats before securing and searching the vessel. Dozens of packages containing advanced weaponry were discovered, confiscated and brought back to HMS Montrose.

The seized packages were returned to the UK for technical analysis which revealed that the shipment contained multiple rocket engines for the Iranian produced 351 land attack cruise missile and a batch of 358 surface-to-air missiles.

The 351 is a cruise missile with a range of 1 000km. It is regularly used by the Houthis to strike targets in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and was also the type of weapon used to attack Abu Dhabi on 17 January 2022, which killed three civilians.

The UK retains a permanent presence in the Middle East, with HMS Montrose having been deployed to the region since early 2019, actively supporting multi-national maritime security operations and protecting the interests of the United Kingdom and its allies, the UK Ministry of Defence said. The ship operates under the control and direction of the UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC), based in Bahrain.

In the wider Gulf, HMS Montrose regularly works alongside international partners as part of the 38-nation coalition Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). CMF is the world’s largest multinational maritime partnership, which exists to counter illicit non-state actors. HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate, has taken part in numerous successful operations to seize illicit drugs in the Gulf of Oman, most recently in January when £15 million worth of heroin, methamphetamine, hashish and marijuana were seized.

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.