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Gulf of Aden. (August 26, 2023) The U.S. Navy is on the hunt for pirates and drug smugglers in some of the most dangerous waters in the world. In this photo by MC2  Kerri Kline, Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner depart the ship in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat during visit, board, search, and seizure operations. The Hudner is underway with the U.S. 5th Fleet Area to ensure maritime security and stability in the Middle East region.

The Gulf of Aden is notorious for attempted hijackings and human/drug smuggling, mostly by pirates coming from nearby Somalia and Yemen. The Gulf of Aden leads to the Red Sea  and is part of the vital Suez Canal shipping route used by over 21,000 ships a year that transport approximately eleven percent of the world’s oil.

In the late 2000s, the Gulf evolved into a hub for pirate attacks on commercial shipping as well as a highway for drugs and weapons shipments from Iran to its allies in Yemen. In both nations, there are high levels of unemployment, poverty, violence, and corruption that has created a climate where piracy and smuggling has flourished.

The pirates operate very small craft and carry small arms and occasionally rocket propelled grenades to attack civilian ships. Particularly vulnerable are luxury yachts that are tempting targets for opportunistic attacks, hijackings, or armed robbery.

In addition to warding off desperate pirates, the Navy must also confront attempts by Iran to ship military supplies to its Houthis allies in Yemen in violation of international sanctions. Under international law, military cargoes are not permitted to be shipped to the warring parties in Yemen and are subject to seizure.  One example of such a seizure came in December 2021 when the USS Tempest and USS Typhoon interdicted a stateless fishing vessel transporting a cache of illicit weapons including 1,400 AK-47 assault rifles and 226,600 rounds of ammunition bound for Yemen.

The USS Thomas Hudner is more than capable of handling these bandits. This Arleigh-Burke class vessel, based at Naval Air Station Mayport, Florida, is staffed by 380 officers and crew and features some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world. The Hudner boasts an anti-aircraft battery that includes one 20mm Phalanx mini-gun, two 25-millimeter MK38 machine guns, and four 50 calibers positioned on its deck.  The ship also carries surface-to-air missiles and a variety of torpedoes for anti-submarine warfare. Finally, the Hudson has two MH-60 Seahawk helicopters to pursue fleeing bad guys if needed.

Due to the efforts of ships like these, both piracy and smuggling have decreased dramatically in the past year. The U.S. and its allies will continue to patrol these vital waters to ensure safe navigation and the end of illegal arms shipments.