Yemeni officials confirmed on Saturday that a ship intercepted last month off its coast was an Iranian vessel trying to smuggle explosives and surface-to-air missiles to the country, the state news agency Saba reported.
Officials in Washington said earlier this week that the seizure of the ship on January 23 was coordinated with the US navy, and that the intercepted shipment was believed to have been from Iran and destined for insurgents in northern Yemen.
Saba quoted a source at Yemen’s higher security committee who said the weapons, including Russian-designed anti-aircraft missiles, were hidden inside four containers concealed by a diesel tank.
“The source said that the ship, with its cargo, was handed over to eight Yemeni crew in Iran to deliver it to the Yemeni shores,” Saba said.
The agency said the weapons were now being unloaded and sorted and the crew questioned.
“The results will be published after the contents of the ship are unloaded and sorted,” it added.
Yemen’s president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, snubbed a visiting Iranian envoy last year to signal his “displeasure” after Sanaa said it uncovered an Iranian-led spy ring in the capital.
A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Monday that the seizure of the ship demonstrates “ever-pernicious Iranian meddling in other countries in the region.” The Yemeni government believes that Iran is supporting the Houthis, a Shia insurgent group based in northern Yemen.
Iran denies any interference in Yemen’s affairs.
Earlier in January, the US envoy to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, was quoted as accusing Iran of also working with southern secessionists seeking to restore the country that merged with North Yemen in 1990. Yemen is also grappling with an al-Qaeda insurgency in the centre and south of the country.
Yemen’s government said in a statement issued by the Yemeni embassy in Washington last Monday that the shipment was intercepted in Yemeni waters, close to the Arabian Sea. It said Yemeni coast guard officials boarded the vessel, which flew multiple flags and had eight Yemeni crew members on board.
“Authorities are continuing to investigate the vessel’s shipping route by analysing navigation records found on board the ship,” the statement said.