Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ocean Freight is Crucial Supply Route for Illicit Weapon Deliveries According to Expert Panel

Discoveries in the Sea off the Coast of Yemen are a Warning to Freight Forwarders
Shipping News Feature

YEMEN – Transport by sea is singled out as a primary method of getting offensive weapons into the conflict zone according to the final report of the Panel of Experts on Yemen, sent late last month to the Security Council Committee, with a request it be forwarded to the UN Security Council itself.

The Panel observes two major trends, the first is the transfer of commercially available parts, such as aerial vehicle engines, servo actuators and electronics, which are exported from industrialised countries through a network of intermediaries to the Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, where they are integrated into locally assembled un-crewed aerial vehicles and waterborne improvised explosive devices.

The second is the continued reception by Houthi forces of military support in the form of assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, anti-tank guided missiles and more sophisticated cruise missile systems. Some of those weapons have technical characteristics similar to arms manufactured in the Islamic Republic of Iran. For both commercial parts and weapons, the main smuggling route seems to run overland from Oman and the southern coast of Yemen, through territory controlled by the Government of Yemen, towards Sana’a.

However, as to evidence of sea transfer, there was a seizure on 25 November 2019 of a dhow carrying anti-tank guided missiles and other missile parts in the Arabian Sea, illustrating the typical method of avoiding an embargo. This cache of heavy duty weaponry, seized by the destroyer USS Forrest Sherman, and which the Pentagon immediately identified as of Iranian manufacture, apparently included a Quds-1 cruise missile, a C802 anti-ship missile, and what it believes were surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) of a type previously unseen. At the time US Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook, commented:

"The seizure includes sophisticated weapons, sophisticated components of anti-ship cruise missiles, land-attack cruise missiles, air-defence missiles, and anti-tank missiles. The weapon components comprise the most sophisticated weapons seized by the US Navy to date during the Yemen conflict."

One source to be trusted in these matters is Jane’s Defence Weekly which positively identified the cache as containing an anti-ship missile, marked as a C802: a Chinese type that is in service in Iran, which produces its own version called the Noor. The UN report identifies also 21 Kornets, an anti-tank missile of Russian design but also marked in the same way as the Iranian-made Dehlavieh version.

The Houthi named Quds -1 cruise missile is perhaps the most significant as this type was used in the two attacks on oil refineries last September. Called by the Saudi Arabians the Ya Ali, the name the Iranian manufacturers use, this particular model is believed to have as a primary engine an unlicensed copy of the TJ-100 turbojet produced by PBS Velká Bíteš in Czechia, which is externally mounted, and a 47A solid-propellant rocket booster mounted at the rear with four fixed stabiliser fins to provide additional thrust during the launch phase.

On the evidence it studied the Panel dismisses the possibility these weapons are of Yemeni origin (as claimed by the Houthis following the Abqaiq and Khurais oil terminal attacks), and from the dates discovered on the casings, conclude these weapons were delivered in breach of the embargo on arms supplies.

For any vessels vessel in the Gulf of Aden/Red Sea areas the big worry will of course be the fact that a C-802 anti-ship missile was discovered with the other arms. The C-802, often wrongly identified as an export version of the Chinese made, French powered YJ-83 ‘Eagle Strike’ weapon was possibly the type used in previous attacks by what was believed to be a Houthi battery at the guided missile destroyer USS Mason in an unsuccessful attack in 2016.

For any with a need to fully understand the complexities of the current situation in Yemen the latest report from the Panel, as linked above, makes essential reading. Although several sections are redacted from public scrutiny the entire document provides a fascinating insight into the situation on the ground.

Even shipping documents and packing lists for various weapon components are published, a warning to freight forwarders to always ensure what they are exporting and who to. What are the chances of a Greek company shipping anything to Iran using Turkish Airlines without a question being asked? Yet an Airwaybill copy in the report confounds this.

Photo: (Courtesy of the Panel of Experts) Top: Cruise Missile assumed to be for Surface to Air (SAM) use. Bottom: The four section C-802 anti-ship missile less wings, motor etc. with the Arabic word for caution written on the seeker section.