By Fox News Producer Lucas Tomlinson
Pentagon officials confirm there is a lone Iranian-flagged cargo ship underway headed in the direction of Yemen, presumably to deliver relief supplies to Yemeni citizens affected by the ongoing conflict between the Saudi Arabian-led coalition and Iran-backed Houthi rebels inside the country.
“We are aware of an Iranian cargo ship underway presumably bound for Yemen as they have said,” one official told Fox News adding that the ship left Iran Monday. The cargo ship is currently in the Gulf of Oman, proceeding in the direction of Yemen after making an outbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz according to the official.
Saudi Arabia announced a ceasefire in its air campaign against the Houthis in Yemen beginning at 11 p.m. local/4 p.m. EDT today.
Another defense official told Fox News, “This cargo ship is not like the last convoy. It is an Iranian-flagged commercial vessel owned by Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line and does not have an escort at the moment,” he said.
On April 19, the U.S. Navy sent the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and her escort, USS Normandy, a guided-missile cruiser from the northern Arabian Gulf where she was launching aircraft to strike ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria to intercept a nine-ship Iranian convoy suspected of carrying rockets to arm Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Iranian convoy turned around four days later off the coast of Oman before reaching Yemeni waters and returned home. The U.S. Navy sent jets from Roosevelt and other escort ships in the battle group to monitor the convoy throughout its transit.
Two Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy vessels were part of the nine-ship convoy.
Currently, the lone Iranian cargo ship underway does not have a military escort, according to the Pentagon.
“At this point, there is no reason to believe the ship is anything except what the Iranians say it is—a ship carrying supplies,” said one official.
When Fox News asked the official how he could be so sure the Iranian cargo ship steaming toward Yemen was only carrying humanitarian supplies and not weapons, he pointed to the intelligence gathering capability of the U.S. military.
“We monitor everything. We monitor the activities of all maritime traffic in the region including this one,” he said.
The Pentagon is not tracking any other ships headed in the direction of Yemen at this time besides the cargo ship, but they are aware of the press reports coming out of Iran today from its state run news agency.
The Pentagon deferred to the State Dept. about any potential verification processes put in place after the ceasefire is announced to ensure that no weapons are shipped to Yemen.