Two US Navy SEALs who went missing during an operation to seize Iranian weapons bound for Yemen’s Houthi rebels have been declared dead after a 10-day search failed to locate them.

The pair were reported lost at sea after boarding the vessel in an operation near on January 11 on the coast of Somalia, the US military’s Central Command said.

That operation saw elite special operations personnel board a dhow carrying missile components made in Iran.

“We regret to announce that after a 10-day exhaustive search, our two missing US Navy SEALs have not been located and their status has been changed to deceased,” Centcom said in a statement on Sunday.

“The search and rescue operation for the two Navy SEALs reported missing during the boarding of an illicit dhow carrying Iranian advanced conventional weapons … concluded and we are now conducting recovery operations,” it added.

A joint operation carried out by the United States, Spain and Japan had searched more than 21,000 square miles of ocean for the missing SEALs, Centcom said.

It described the capture of the missile components as “the first seizure of lethal, Iranian-supplied advanced conventional weapons… to the Houthis since the beginning of Houthi attacks against merchant ships in November 2023”.

That month, the Houthis began targeting ships in the Red Sea they claimed were linked to Israel – attacks they said were in support of Palestinians in Gaza, where Israeli forces are battling Hamas.

The United States and Britain carried out strikes on dozens of rebel targets earlier this month, and American forces have since hit a number of missiles that Washington says were ready to launch and posed a threat to both civilian and military vessels.

The Houthis – who declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets – have yet to be deterred, and have continued to carry out attacks on ships.

Around 12 per cent of global trade normally passes through the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, the Red Sea’s entrance between southwest Yemen and Djibouti, but the rebel attacks have caused much shipping to be diverted around southern Africa instead.

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