Coasties, Marines and Sailors Awarded for Seizing Millions of Pounds of Explosive Materials in Middle East

A Marine sets security during fast roping aboard the Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan
A U.S. Marine with the Maritime Special Purpose Force, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) (MEU(SOC)), sets security during fast roping aboard the Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ship USS Bataan (LHD 5), Atlantic Ocean, Jul. 18, 2023. (Matthew Romonoyske-Bean/U.S. Marine Corps)

Hundreds of service members earned an award for seizing two million pounds of "explosive precursor material" in the Gulf of Oman last year, according to a citation obtained by It is one of the U.S. military's largest publicly revealed hauls as it works to stifle arms smuggling in the region.

Between late August and early September, Marines and sailors with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, along with Coast Guardsmen assigned to Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, intercepted a "stateless vessel" suspected of carrying the explosive material, offloaded its haul, and escorted the vessel to a naval base in Bahrain.

Marines and sailors with the 26th MEU -- a "special operations capable" unit -- provided security for the Coast Guard unit as it interdicted the vessel and offloaded its cargo, according to the citation. The award, the Coast Guard Meritorious Team Commendation, was signed off on by the service's commandant, Adm. Linda L. Fagan.

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"This interservice team consisted of Coast Guard underway officers of the deck and engineers of the watch, combined with a security detachment made up from the 26th MEU," said the citation, provided to by the MEU. "Together, they executed a 17-hour, high-tension nighttime transit through the Strait of Hormuz."

The citation said that the service members transported the vessel, using a Coast Guard-led "prize team," 530 nautical miles west through the Strait of Hormuz, "resulting in the first-ever delivery of a seized stateless vessel to Naval Base Bahrain," which is located in the Persian Gulf.

    According to Interpol, explosive precursors are chemicals or materials that -- when put together -- can make homemade explosives or improvised explosive devices.

    The nature of the seized vessel, its origins and destination are unclear, according to the citation. asked the 26th MEU on Monday for more information about the vessel, but a spokesperson said that the citation was the only information the service would release to the public.

    While details about the vessel are unclear, Tehran-backed smuggling and harassment of commercial ships in the region have been catalysts for U.S. interdiction and maritime security efforts for years.

    Those efforts only increased after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which threw the Middle East into renewed turmoil, emboldening regional factions like the Houthis in their aim to disrupt maritime trade.

    While the mission conducted by the Coasties, Marines and sailors ended a month before the Oct. 7 attack, it is indicative of the broader security concerns the U.S. military has about arms smuggling in some of the world's most important international waterways.

    The interdiction occurred under the control of Commander Task Force 55, or CTF55, a joint entity designed for such missions, which has seen plenty of action in the region, along with partner units.

    Reports surfaced around that time that Marines with the MEU were training in Bahrain for ship security. The unit originally deployed to the region in response to increased harassment of commercial vessels by the Iranian military, but its deployment was extended twice after the Oct. 7 attack, when it was rushed from an exercise in Kuwait to the Mediterranean as a deterrent measure.

    The service members were awarded the commendation on Nov. 9, but it was only recently noted in a Marine administrative message in April. In addition to 192 Marines and sailors with the 26th MEU, 342 sailors assigned to the USS Carter Hall also received the commendation. contacted the Coast Guard asking how many of its service members earned the award, but it did not provide answers by publication. Service members aboard the USS Stethem and Coast Guard Cutters Emlen Tunnell, Glen Harris and John Scheuerman were also cited in the award's writeup.

    Related: Despite Talk, No Evidence Marines Have Boarded Commercial Vessels in Persian Gulf

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