02:31 - Source: CNN
Rebels: Yemen airstrikes kill fleeing families
(CNN) —  

The US Navy says it seized hundreds of small arms including AK-47s from a boat in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday.

The vessel, which was unflagged, was described as a dhow, a small sailboat that is common to the region. The boarding was carried out by the crew of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Jason Dunham, which was participating in a US Naval Forces Central Command operation. The dhow’s crew allowed the US Navy to board upon its request.

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet confirmed the interdiction in a statement issued Thursday, saying “the boarding team discovered a cache of over 1,000 AK-47 automatic rifles.”

A defense official said the boarded vessel’s destination was not immediately clear, though US officials have said that ships intercepted in this area in the past have been linked to Iranian efforts to support Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The US is analyzing the evidence on board to determine the boat’s origin and destination, the official said.

The US supports the Saudi-led coalition in its fight against the Iranian-backed Houthis, a conflict that has come under increased scrutiny amid concerns over civilian casualties.

The 5th Fleet statement said the US warship “located a dhow transferring covered packages to a skiff” on Monday and boarded the vessel on Tuesday. The skiff’s engines were inoperable, and the distressed mariners were taken aboard the Dunham and later transferred to the Yemeni Coast Guard.

“The original source of the weapons has not yet been identified,” the statement said, adding that “the weapons are in US custody awaiting final disposition.”

The Gulf of Aden, which connects the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea, sees heavy maritime traffic and is frequently used by smugglers to move a variety of cargo. US and allied warships participating in the Combined Task Force 150 have previously intercepted other ships in the area. In April, a French frigate seized thousands of pounds of illicit drugs worth millions of dollars.

This story has been updated.