Ten U.S. sailors on two Navy boats were taken into Iranian custody Tuesday, the Pentagon said.
The sailors were held by the Iranian military overnight. They were released to U.S. custody Wednesday morning, the Navy announced, adding that there were no indications that the sailors had been harmed. The Navy said that it will investigate the circumstances surrounding the sailors’ detention.
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A defense official initially told the Washington Free Beacon Tuesday that Iran informed the U.S. that the crew would be "promptly" returned. However, ABC News later reported that Iran would hold the two boats overnight and allow them to resume their voyage at daylight, attributing news of the development to a senior defense official.
The defense official who spoke to the Free Beacon declined to say whether any representatives of the U.S. government had spoken with the detained sailors.
"Earlier today, we lost contact with two small U.S. naval craft en route from Kuwait to Bahrain. We subsequently have been in communication with Iranian authorities, who have informed us of the safety and well-being of our personnel. We have received assurances the 10 sailors will promptly be allowed to continue their journey," the defense official said.
Fars News, a semi-official Iranian news agency, reported that the sailors were being held by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Fars also reported that Iran is claiming that the sailors entered 2 kilometers into its territory, breaching its waters.
The IRGC Navy Public Relations spokesman issued a statement confirming the "arrest" of "10 armed" American personnel who breached Iranian territorial waters near the island of Farsi in the Persian Gulf and were then transferred there, according to an independent translation of Sepah News, the official news agency of the IRGC, provided to the Free Beacon. The spokesman further stated that the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman was present southeast of the island in international waters when the arrest was made.
He also stated that the French aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle was northeast of the island in international waters at the time. The spokesman insisted that the U.S. personnel were in "full health" and being treated "with Islamic manners" by the IRGC’s naval forces.
The Pentagon lost contact with the two small Navy boats Tuesday when they were moving through the Persian Gulf, the Associated Press first reported.
"We have been in contact with Iran and have received assurances that the crew and the vessels will be returned promptly," Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook stated.
According to NBC News, Iranian military forces were holding the boats on the island of Farsi. Ten American sailors–nine male and one female–were aboard the two riverine patrol boats for a training mission when one of them began experiencing mechanical problems, officials said. It remains unclear whether the boat drifted into Iranian territorial waters before it was seized.
Search and rescue teams from the USS Harry S. Truman strike group attempted to help the crew but stopped after the boats and sailors were captured by the Iranian military, according to USNI News.
The Obama administration claimed that incidents like what occurred Tuesday are precisely why the White House pursued the nuclear deal with Iran that was finalized last summer.
"That is why the United States and this president made it a priority to organize the international community, to reach an agreement with Iran that will prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told CNN. "This agreement is actually the best way for us to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon."
Jen Psaki, the White House communications director, told CNN that there were "no plans" to address the incident during President Obama’s State of the Union address.
Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.), who served as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve, said in a statement Tuesday evening that the implementation of the nuclear deal should be "contingent" on the release of the sailors and other U.S. citizens detained in Iran.
"Even Americans who support the nuclear deal with Iran can agree that implementation should be contingent on the release of all U.S. Navy personnel and the additional American citizens detained–Pastor Saeed Abedini, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati, Robert Gevinson, and Siamak Namazi. One hundred billion dollars to the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism only emboldens Iran to harm more Americans," Kirk said.
In 2007, Iran captured 15 British naval personnel for allegedly invading Iranian waters, holding them for two weeks. Britain maintained that the sailors were in Iraqi waters under a United Nations mandate when they were captured.
This post will be updated as further information becomes available.