Illicit Weapons Haul off Oman, Destined for Somalia

Yesterday it was reported that the Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Darwin discovered a significant store of heavy weaponry on board a fishing vessel, approximately 170 nautical miles (313 kilometres) off of the coast of Oman.

Working as part of the Combined Task Force 150, HMAS Darwin stopped and boarded the vessel to conduct a flag verification. Subsequently, it was confirmed the vessel was not sailing under any flag and its cargo was revealed to include 1989 AK-47 assault rifles, 100 rocket propelled grenade launchers, 49 PKM general purpose machine guns, 39 PKM spare barrels and 20 60mm mortar tubes. It was also confirmed that the vessel was en route to Somalia.

Fortunately, this large weapons hoard headed for Somalia was intercepted before reaching the country’s shores. However, the incident not only highlights the importance of counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East region, but also raises the question, who were the weapons intended to reach?

Considering the weapons type and amount, it is feasible to assume that the cargo was to be distributed within the dormant pirate communities that reside in the coastal towns of Somalia. The weapons could have been on their way to Somalia to support the increasingly active pirate action groups who are patiently waiting in anticipation for the withdrawal of EU NAVFOR and EU funding to Somali infrastructure.

Whilst the threat of piracy has decreased in recent years, there are communities in Somalia that still believe that the financial gains piracy offers are worth the risks taken to achieve them. Dormant pirates could be further motivated to begin committing acts of piracy if they considered their chances of successfully boarding vessels to be higher. With the reduced HRA and the decrease in international patrols in the Indian Ocean to be put into effect later this year, it could only be a matter of time before pirates take to the seas once more.