The Royal Navy has seized Iranian missiles being smuggled out of the country on speedboats after a high-speed pursuit by Wildcat helicopters.
Royal Marine commandos impounded surface-to-air-missiles and engines for land attack cruise missiles in two operations in February, the MoD has revealed.
HMS Montrose, a British Type-23 frigate, led the operation to halt the illegal weapon supplies.
It is likely the weapons were being transported to Houthi rebels fighting in Yemen, in contravention of a UN Security Council resolution.
This is the first time a British warship has intercepted a vessel carrying such sophisticated weapons from Iran.
Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said: “The UK is committed to upholding international law, from standing up to aggression in Europe to interdicting illegal shipments of weaponry that perpetuates instability in the Middle East.
“The UK will continue to work in support of an enduring peace in Yemen and is committed to international maritime security so that commercial shipping can transit safely without threat of disruption.”
The seizures, which took place in international waters south of Iran on January 28 and February 25 this year, occurred in the early hours of the morning.
HMS Montrose’s Wildcat helicopter, equipped with state of the art radar systems, was scanning for vessels smuggling illicit goods when the crew spotted small vessels moving at speed away from the Iranian coast.
They reported back to HMS Montrose that suspicious cargo was visible on deck and pursued the vessels. They were supported on both occasions by a Seahawk helicopter from United States Navy destroyer USS Gridley, which provided critical overwatch during the operations.
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.
Missile regularly used by Houthis
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.
With a range of 1000kms, the 351 cruise missile is regularly used by the Houthis to strike targets in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It was used in the attack on Abu Dhabi on January 17, 2022, which killed three civilians.
Commanding Officer of HMS Montrose, Commander Claire Thompson, said: “These interdictions demonstrate the professionalism and commitment of the Royal Navy to promoting stability in this region.
“I am extremely proud of my crew – the Royal Navy sailors, aircrew and Royal Marines involved in these endeavours and the significant positive impact they are having in maintaining the international rules-based order at sea.”
The Royal Navy retains a permanent presence in the Gulf region, based out of the UK Maritime Component Command headquarters in Bahrain.
HMS Montrose was deployed to the area in 2019 to support multi-national maritime security operations alongside international partners as part of the 38-nation coalition Combined Maritime Forces.
The British ship 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.
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