The US Navy in the Middle East is offering rewards for tips on illegal activity at sea.

The US Naval Forces Central Command (Navcent) said it would pay individuals who voluntarily report information leading to the detection of illegal maritime activity and the seizure of illicit cargoes in the region, including the Middle East Gulf, Suez Canal, Red Sea and Strait of Hormuz.

Navcent said the rewards could come in the form of cash, with a $100,000 maximum, or non-monetary rewards like boats, vehicles or food.

“Launching this program represents another example of our commitment to this region and its security,” Navcent’s commander, vice admiral Brad Cooper, said in a statement announcing the programme on Tuesday.

“This also enhances our vigilance and supports counterterrorism efforts, which are essential to safeguarding the free flow of commerce.”

Navcent said the number of cargo seizures “skyrocketed” last year, with US warships seizing nearly 9,000 illicit weapons last year, three times as many as in 2020, while the US-led Combined Maritime Forces took more than $500m in illegal drugs.

The group attributes the rise to increased patrols in the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.

Many of the publicised seizures involved fishing boats, and in some instances involved alleged arms trafficking from Iran to Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The Houthis have been blamed for attacks on commercial shipping, including detaining a UAE-flagged landing craft and various mine attacks, though there have been few recent incidents.

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