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USS Winston Churchill crews seize illegal weapons off coast of Somalia

Personnel from the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill last week boarded a stateless dhow off the coast of Somalia, pictured, and interdicted an illicit shipment of weapons and weapon components. Photo by Louis Thompson Staats IV/U.S. Navy
Personnel from the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill last week boarded a stateless dhow off the coast of Somalia, pictured, and interdicted an illicit shipment of weapons and weapon components. Photo by Louis Thompson Staats IV/U.S. Navy

Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Crews on the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston Churchill seized thousands of illicit shipments of weapons and weapons components from two stateless boats off the coast of Somalia last week, the Navy said on Tuesday.

The Churchill's Visit, Board, Search and Seizure team and its embarked joint service Advanced Interdiction Team found a cache of weapons during a flag verification boarding, the Navy said.

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During the boarding, which was conducted last Thursday and Friday, crews found thousands of AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns, heavy sniper rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Crews also discovered weapon components including barrels, stocks, optical scopes and weapon systems.

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According to the Navy, the original source of the weapons has not yet been identified.

Churchill crews located the dhows -- lateen-rigged ships with one or two masts -- and provided more than 40 hours of overwatch and security for the ship and its teams, as well as food and water for the dhow's crews.

"We are proud of the combined efforts of the AIT and Churchill crew members for executing dynamic and demanding boardings," Lt. Travis Dopp, Assistant AIT Leader aboard Churchill, said in a press release.

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"We are proud to have a positive impact on the safety and security of coalition forces by interdicting shipments of lethal aid," Dopp said.

The seizure was conducted in accordance with international law in international waters and was part of the U.S. Navy's regular maritime security operations in the region, the Navy said.

The routine patrols are performed "to ensure the free flow of commerce for legitimate traffic and to disrupt the transport of illicit cargo that often funds terrorism and unlawful activity," according to the press release.

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"This joint team [Army, Navy and Coast Guard] on board Churchill came together to successfully execute this operation over the course of two days in the Indian Ocean. These operations prevent nefarious actors from illegally spreading their lethal aid," said Cdr. Timothy Shanley, commanding officer of Churchill.

The Churchill departed Norfolk, Va., in August, for deployment in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations.

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