Pentagon: 10 Navy sailors being held by Iran
Washington — Iranian military forces are holding 10 American sailors and two small Navy boats that apparently strayed into Iranian waters, U.S. officials said Tuesday, but Tehran has pledged to release them shortly.
The sailors were expected to be transferred to U.S. custody Wednesday morning local Iran time.
U.S. officials said that the incident happened near Farsi Island, situated in the Persian Gulf. They said that some type of mechanical trouble with one of the boats caused them to run aground and they were picked up by Iran. The sailors were in Iranian custody on Farsi Island at least for some time, but it’s not certain where they are now.
The semi-official Iranian news agency, FARS, said the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s navy has detained 10 foreign forces, believed to be Americans, and said the sailors were trespassing in Iranian waters. FARS also reported that one of the 10 sailors was a woman.
“We have been in contact with Iran and have received assurances that the crew and the vessels will be returned promptly,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said.
U.S. officials said they believe that craft steered off course and that the crew was aided, not captured, by Iranian forces.
“There doesn’t seem to be anything malicious at work on either side,” according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal assessment.
The Navy crew members are safe and are expected to be released promptly, Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, said on CNN.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry has spoken by phone with Iranian officials in Tehran to gain their release. Ben Rhodes, a senior aide to President Barack Obama, indicated that the situation was still fluid.
“We were aware of circumstances surrounding the patrol in the Persian Gulf,” Rhodes said. “We are working to resolve the situation so any U.S. personnel are returned to their normal deployment. ... Hopefully, it will be resolved.”
A Pentagon official said the Navy “lost contact” with the two craft as they transited 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,” said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “We have received assurances the sailors will promptly be allowed to continue their journey.”
Farsi Island is home to gas and oil installations, in addition to the Revolutionary Guard base, and public access is restricted.
The craft had ventured about 1.2 miles inside Iran’s maritime boundary, Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency reported.
Fars did not mention any kind of a clash during the incident. Nor did it give insight into the fate of those held.
The incident came on the heels of an incident in late December when Iran launched a rocket test near U.S. warships and boats passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Meanwhile, Iran is expected to satisfy the terms of last summer’s nuclear deal in just days.