Iran has reportedly used a variety of methods to transfer weapons to Somalia in recent years, with Yemen playing a key role in this process. The smuggling of weapons through Somalia’s ports is a complex issue that can be analyzed on two levels: the criminal level and the global terrorism level.

Many parts of Puntland are controlled by local tribal gangs that specialize in human smuggling, arms smuggling, and, according to some sources, the smuggling of valuable archaeological exhibits. The situation in Somalia’s ports is dire, and smuggling weapons through the port of Mogadishu, for example, is reportedly easy due to lax security and the involvement of certain individuals in the Somali government. These weapons are often intended for use by terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab, which has managed to infiltrate the pipelines of the Somali government.

In the past 15 years, Iran has sought to exploit Somalia’s ongoing famine crisis by providing aid and attempting to spread the Shiite sect through its programs to create militias loyal to it. However, these efforts have reportedly been unsuccessful due to the dominance of the Wahhabi ideology in Somalia. It is also suggested that Iran has sought to gain a foothold in Somalia through the trade of uranium and the use of some of Somalia’s ports as distribution centers and weapons depots. While there are allegations of Iran’s involvement in the uranium trade through Al-Shabaab in Somalia, it is important to note that Somaliland is not involved in the smuggling of weapons to extremist groups.

Iranian flagged dhow/ Source: Reddit

Iranian flagged dhow / Source: Reddit

IUU (Illegal, unreported & unregulated) fishing methods:

IUU (Illegal, unreported & unregulated) fishing methods:

Iran has a long history of using illicit means to smuggle weapons to Somalia, and It has been recorded that Iran used Iranian-flagged semi-fishing vessels for arms smuggling to the Somalian coast thru Yemen and directly from Iranian ports.

From the third week of September thru the end of November 2022, I observed dozens of Iranian-flagged vessels along the coast of Puntland, which is a known hub for arms smuggling. Most of these vessels had departed from ports in Iran like Seerik, Biahi & even Bandar e-Lengeh and had stopped at naval bases such as Chabahar and Bandar e Jask, further indicating their involvement in the illicit trade. You can read more here.

MSV AL NOORE USMANI1, MMSI 419956784 / Credit: Marine Traffic

Over time, the concentration of these Iranian-flagged vessels has decreased, and Indian-flagged dhows have begun to appear along the Somali coast, coming directly from Iranian ports such as Bandar Abbas. Indian flagged Dhows & Ships were always active on the Somalian coast but since that period the amount increases. You can read more about it here.

Without a container terminal, all goods destined for Somalia must pass through Salalah in Oman. This port has seen instances of Iranian arms smuggling and Salafi Jihadi activity, particularly in the border region with Yemen. The proximity of Salalah Port to the Al-Mahra area, which is controlled by Pro-PLC/Arab Coalition forces, does not necessarily contribute to port security.

A good example is the use of vessels like the ALGHANI.

ALGHANI, MMSI 422341436 Activity during August 2022

The Iranian vessel was spotted navigating along the coast of Somalia several times during 2022, and its MMSI number is 422341436. The ALGHANI recently arrived at Salalah port in Oman, a main container terminal for Somalia, from Nishtun port in Al Mahra, Yemen.

However, this route raises concerns as in June 2022, the Yemeni Navy intercepted an Iranian ship loaded with drugs in the Nishtun port.

This shows that the Salalah port may not be as safe as previously thought. The ALGHANI was last moored in Nishtun on May 05, 2022, but suspiciously, its Automatic Identification System (AIS) was turned off when it was located 109 Km southeast of Sayhut, Al-Mahra, Yemen on August 18, 2022.

Further tracking revealed that the vessel was spotted near Habo port, along the Puntland northern coast on August 19, 2022.

While ALGHANI may seem like a small player in the Iranian smuggling operations, it is just one link in a larger chain. Smuggling activities along the coast of Somalia not only disrupt the local economy but also pose a security risk to the region and even the world.

But during this period, from all the suspected ships, there was one that caught my eye!

I decided to trace her traces, both visible and hidden.

Hiding docking in ports is not always successful, especially if the mistake was made several times, there will always be a footprint!

On October 22, 2022, Garacad Port was officially opened.

Garacad Port, Somalia / Source: Google Earth Pro

Distance between Garacad Port & border town of Goldogob

Somalian roads plan / Credit: Desiderio Consultants LTD

The Garacad Port in Puntland, Somalia is strategically important as it serves also as a gateway for cross-border trade access and a hub for business activities. It connects to the inner Mudug regions, specifically the town of Goldogob, which is a strategic border town. The official opening of the port is expected to boost economic activity in the region. A 305 km road will link the seaport to Goldogob, at the border with Ethiopia, via Galkacyo, and construction works are expected to begin soon

Somalia Territorial Map

Just to remind you that in March 2016, Somali al-Shabaab militants took control of the Northern port town of Garacad. Of course, things changed since then, but Garacad got its name as connected to weapons smuggling by militant and foreign “fishing” vessels especially those that came from Iran.

In recent days, Al-Shabaab control the southern coast of Somalia, towns like Harardhere, Galcad & Marca. While the group continues to control rural areas and launch attacks in urban areas, its control over specific towns and cities is subject to change.

I came across information indicating that illegal weapons and ammonium nitrate were being smuggled into the newly opened port of Garacad for Al-Shabaab. It was also recorded that U.S. 5th Fleet interdicted a stateless fishing vessel carrying “40 tons of urea fertilizer, a chemical compound with agricultural applications that are also known to be used as an explosive precursor on an Iranian “fishing vessel” this year.

This motivated me to begin my own investigation into a General Cargo Vessel that had moored at the ports of Garacad, Bossaso, and Berbera.

Somalia’s ports have a long history of being used for arms smuggling, often by rebel groups or terrorist organizations such as Al-Shabaab, as well as local tribal gangs.

In this case, the General Cargo Vessel in question stood out due to its determination, consistency, and attempts to hide its presence in the ports and on its route. While it may be difficult to definitively prove a connection to the Iranian government, these circumstances raised suspicion and warranted further investigation.

I was able to confirm a direct connection to Iran and uncovered several pieces of evidence that suggest illegal activity may have been involved.

These findings were significant!

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157.

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157

According to my investigation, this vessel has been on a mission along the Somalian coast since the end of December 2021.

In 2022 visited 14 times Somalian ports including Bossaso & even the new Garacad Port as well as Berbera port though it belongs to Somaliland considering the facts nature, it is very important to mention the visit to this port too!

From the findings that surfaced, this vessel was probably involved in illegal arms smuggling in Yemen’s coastal area and ports of Bossaso and Garacad.

According to the Equasis platform it is owned and managed by RPTD SOLD UNDISCLOSED INTEREST.

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157 / Equasis database

Owns several Oil tankers whose name has been linked to the smuggling of Iranian Oil to the Syrian coastline, especially the port of Baniyas.

Tankers such as GOLROO-Crude Oil Tanker, IMO 9167148.

And another Oil tanker also managed and owned by the same fleet is:

LOTUS_-Crude Oil Tanker, IMO 9203784.

RPTD SOLD UNDISCLOSED INTEREST holds also some Iranian flagged General Cargo Ships such as SHOJA2, IMO 8318075 & PASARGAD11, IMO 9047623 that are very active for Bushehr & Bandar Abbas ports shipment.

And of course, also Cargo ships that are active in the Caspian Sea such as ADRINA- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8031433.

This is a company that is a derivative of RPTD SOLD IRAN, which itself owns a large fleet of Iranian Oil tankers & General Cargo Ships such as AFRA SAHEL-General Cargo Ship, IMO 8806450 & SAM 121- Crude Oil Tanker, IMO 9173745 that was spotted several times along the Syrian coast.

Our tour begins at the end of 2021 when she left the Gulf for a long mission on the Somalian coast:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157 traffic / Source: Marine Traffic

Analyzing her port calls for 2022 as follows:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157 Port calls / Analyzed by @Istihbarat1800L

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, Somalian Port Calls analyzed by @Istihbarat1800L

Suspicious movement in the Persian Gulf & Iranian ports:

In December 2021, AK Hamburg left the Gulf for a mission on the Somalian coast. Since Somalia does not have a cargo terminal, the vessel frequently visited the port of Salalah in Oman, and from there traveled to ports in Puntland, Bossaso, and Garacad. In 2022, there is also one recorded visit to the port of Berbera in Somaliland.

During the investigation, more suspicious activity was discovered. It turns out that the vessel returned to Iran when it was “dark” (i.e., not transmitting its location) for two weeks. Analysis of the times and area suggests that the vessel may have picked up a shipment at the port of Bushehr and then returned to the Somalian coast.

The fact that RPTD SOLD UNDISCLOSED INTEREST holds a large fleet of Cargo vessels in Bushehr port just strengthens this destination.

This occurred in April 2022. During this suspicious voyage, the vessel’s last reported location was on April 16, while it was heading west in the direction of Bushehr. After two weeks of being “dark,” the vessel reappeared on May 05, heading east back towards Somalia.

Got her spotted on Sentinel 2, most likely on the way to Bushehr:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157 Spotted on her way to Bushehr, Iran

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157 route/ Source: Marine Traffic

Suspicious movement in the Al-Mahra, Yemen Coast:

During my investigation, I documented a ship-to-ship (STS) transfer that took place on June 20, 2022, approximately 91 km southeast of the Sayhut coast. The transfer involved the AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship and a group of other vessels.

The AK HAMBURG remained in the area for a total time of 2 hours.

In the wide circle area, there were also dozens of boats whose role appeared to be to secure the activity, a common formation method for arms smuggling in Somalia and Yemen based on my past observations (In professional terms:watcher-scanner role).

Given the location, the method of operation, and the background of the General Cargo Ship, there is a high probability that these vessels are affiliated with the Houthis.

Geolocated on 14.6212,51.8520 for June 20, 2022

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157 Spotted in the Yemeni coastal area

Suspicious movement in Puntland ports:

According to the Vessel Finder platform, the AK HAMBURG visited Iran one time in 2021

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157 Port Calls/ Source: Vessel Finder

But how many anchorages in the Somalian ports are not reported?

For 2022, I found at least two times that docking at the Bossaso port was not reported for this vessel and they were satisfied with a reported anchoring at the Bossaso anchorage at the outer berth only.

For example, AK HAMBURG Anchored at Bossaso anchor on November 30 at 03:53 UTC.

She was spotted on Sentinel 2 on December 02, 07:16 UTC at the anchor:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, Bossaso anchor/ Source: Sentinel 2

While the information provided on the Vessel Finder Platform is indicated as follows:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157/ Port Calls/ Source: Vessel Finder

Without any record of anchoring in the port!

BUT On December 05, AK HAMBURG moored at Bossaso port and left the port on December 10, 2022.

In a Satellite image from December 08, 2022, she was spotted STSing with what appeared as two ships next to her cranes.

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157/ Credit @MT_Anderson on Twitter

The habit to hide the destination and port by declaring unclickable data SO BOS on the destination is highly suspicious, trying to prevent ports search!

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157 Port Call/ Source: Vessel Finder

So, got her spotted on Sentinel 2 also for December 17 at the Bossaso anchor:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, Bossaso anchor/ Source: Sentinel 2

Digging deep into her history, On July 12, 2022, AK HAMBURG docked at Bossaso port:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, route/ Source: Marine Traffic

AK HAMBURG left Bossaso on July 17, 2022:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, route / Source: Marine Traffic

Checking high-res images on Google Earth Pro:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, Bossaso Port/ Source: Google Earth

Spotted her in the port, same size, same coordinates, and identify her by her 3 yellow cranes, and coordinates as per tracking platforms, STSing with 9 local-type ships.

Her entrance to the port was hiding, she was just declaring for her anchor to arrive.

The next Port is Garacad Port:

AK HAMBURG moored twice at Garacad Port.

Both entries were not recorded.

The first time was on October 21, 2022, for the opening of the Garacad Port.

AK Hamburg docked at The Port to unload commercial goods Belonging to Puntland businessmen.

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, Garacad Port/ Source:

The second time was on November 13, 2022, got a satellite image of her in the anchor and in the Port:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, Garacad/ Source: Sentinel 2

And one record from the Berbera anchor & evidence from a tracking platform for being moored at the port:

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, Berbera anchor/ Source: Sentinel 2

AK HAMBURG- General Cargo Ship, IMO 8204157, Berbera Port/ Source: Marine Traffic

Summary, Geopolitical insights, Conclusions & Opinions:

Bandar Abbas port is not only a military harbor. It is also a departure base for civilian Dhows and ships to the coasts of Yemen and Somalia.

It has been recorded that several dhows departed from Bandar Abbas’s northern piers towards the Somalian coast.

You can read more about it here.

Most of them were routed to northern Puntland but there were spotted several Dhows also along the Mudug Coast, in ports like Kismayo, Merca, and Mogadishu.

Bandar Abbas Harbor analyzed by @Istihbarat1800L/ Source: Google Earth Pro

Iran has been using illicit means to smuggle weapons to Somalia through various routes, with Yemen playing a key role in the process.

We observed the use of the Indian flag to avoid tracking and some of the Houthis also use the Indian flag on their dhows.

In Somalia, the weapons are intended for use by local tribal gangs and even by some terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab, which according to some reports has infiltrated the Somali government, and the situation in Somalia’s ports is dire due to lax security and the involvement of certain individuals in the Somali government.

Additionally, it is suggested that Iran has attempted to exploit Somalia’s ongoing famine crisis by providing aid and spreading the Shiite sect, but these efforts have reportedly been unsuccessful due to the dominance of the Wahhabi ideology in Somalia.

One specific example of a General Cargo Ship called AK HAMBURG that is linked to Iran was observed navigating along the coast of Yemen and suspected in STS’ing with Yemen’s local ships and moored in Somalia several times and was docked at Somalian ports such as Bossaso & Garacad and even Berbera port in Somaliland which has not secured anymore!

Iranian Marwan1(AL WESAM 4) / Credit:

Recent reports have shown that there has been an increase in suspicious vessels arriving at the port of Berbera, located in Somaliland including the famous Marwan1(Old name: AL WESAM 4).

You can read the thread on Jay Bahadur Twitter’s account.

I have also recorded some records about Yemeni ships that departed from Yemeni ports and were sailing toward Berbera Port, you can read more about it here.

This means that even Somaliland, which has a strong government with American backing, is no longer protected against such suspicious entries.

In my opinion, this is part of an Iranian attempt to spread its influence on the west and control the passage in Bab-Al-Mandab and the main axes of control to neighboring countries.

It has been recorded already on my Twitter channel that some vessels linked to Iran moored in Berbera Port.

The Somaliland government, in cooperation with the international community, has taken steps to increase security at the port and monitor the activities of these vessels.

Berbera port is strategically located on the Red Sea and has long been a key trade route for the region.

Control over this port would give Iran significant influence over the shipping lanes that connect Europe, Asia, and Africa, as well as access to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

The government of Somaliland and the international community are closely monitoring the situation and taking steps to prevent Iran from establishing a presence in Berbera port.

However, it is acknowledged that it will take years for Iran to successfully implement this thinking, due to the strength of the Somaliland government and its backing by the US.

Al-Shabaab during a raid in southeast Somalia/ Source: Reddit

Iran is probably attempting to gain control of the Garacad Port in eastern Puntland and keep supporting the Al-Shabaab militant group.

The fact that there is consistent maritime traffic from Iran to this port and a consistent daily movement of Somalian/Indian flagged ships from areas controlled by the al-Shabaab group to this port area with traffic departing from Bandar Abbas port and with the fact that Garacad is connected to strategic border towns reinforces the fact that Iran intends to use Garacad port as a key point for arms smuggling for Al- Shabaab to Ethiopia in the future, rather than just a key point for smuggling to Somalia.

Al-Shabaab has been accused of trying to establish a presence in Ethiopia, particularly in the Somalian Region.

There have been reports of Al-Shabaab recruiting fighters and carrying out attacks in Ethiopia, but the group has not been able to establish a significant foothold in the country as the Ethiopian government has taken steps to combat the threat, including deploying troops to the Somalian Region and increasing border security.

That is one possible reason why Al-Shabaab may be interested in taking control of the port of Garacad.

The port is in the Mudug region of Somalia, which borders Ethiopia.

By controlling the port, Al-Shabaab would be able to disrupt trade and communications between Ethiopia and Somalia, which would be a significant blow to the Ethiopian government.

Additionally, the group could potentially use the port as a base from which to launch attacks in Ethiopia or to smuggle fighters, weapons, and other supplies into the country.

A good example of an Indian-flagged Cargo Ship that was tracked sailing from Bandar Abbas port along the southern Somalia coastal area can be seen here:

MSV BHUMIKA 2170 Cargo ship, MMSI 419956328 tracked across Kismayo coastal area/ Source: Vessel Finder

You can read more about this activity here.

Based on the information provided, which includes the method of operation, background of the General cargo ship AK Hamburg, history of hiding port entries, and evidence of STS transfers along the Yemeni coast, as well as the fact that the ship’s Automatic Identification System (AIS) was turned off when it was located near the coast of Yemen and on her way to one of the Iranian ports (high possibility for Bushehr), it is most likely that the ship was involved in an illicit action, such as arms smuggling to the Somalian coast.