Iranian military forces seized two U.S. Navy boats Tuesday and are detaining them on Iran’s Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. The crew of the two small Navy craft are being held by Iran, but American officials have received assurances from Tehran that the crew and vessels will be returned safely and promptly.
Riverine Command Boat (RCB) 802, assigned to Combined Task Group (CTG) 56.7, conducts patrol operations in the Arabian Gulf in Oct. 2015. Two small riverine vessels of this type were detained on Iran’s Farsi Island. MC2 Torrey W. Lee / U.S. Nav
Iranian military forces seized two U.S. Navy boats Tuesday and are detaining them on Iran’s Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf, senior U.S. officials told NBC News.
The officials said it’s unclear whether the 10 American sailors aboard two small riverine vessels had strayed into Iranian territorial waters before they were captured.
The sailors — nine men and one woman — were on a training mission around noon ET when one of the boats may have experienced mechanical failure and drifted into Iranian-claimed waters, officials added. Iran’s coast guard took them into custody.
“At this point, we’re still monitoring the situation and it’s not entirely clear what happened,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on MSNBC, adding that Iranian authorities confirmed that the sailors are safe.
Earnest said there remained no exact time frame for when the sailors would be let go, but didn’t expect a long delay.
Following reports of the incident, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Iranian officials in Tehran by phone, attempting to secure the sailors’ release.
One senior official told NBC News the Iranians understand it was a mistake and have agreed to release the Americans in international waters within hours.
The Persian Gulf has been a flash point in the Middle East, and the incident comes on the same day President Barack Obama is set to give his annual State of the Union address.
Senior U.S. military commanders also criticized Iran last month for its “highly provocative” actions when it fired unguided rockets near U.S. ships, including the USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier.
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told The Associated Press that the boats were moving between Kuwait and Bahrain when U.S. officials lost contact with them. Farsi Island sits in the Persian Gulf in between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and is fortified by Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
“We have been in contact with Iran and have received assurances that the crew and the vessels will be returned promptly,” Cook said.
Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News military analyst, said the seizure of American boats is “very bad news” and highlights how the Navy may have failed to have surveillance on its vessels.
“We simply can’t allow ground, air or naval units to be seized by a foreign hostile power,” McCaffrey said on MSNBC. “I hope they’re back real quickly. This is an affront to our military presence in the Gulf and will unsettle our allies in the region.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said on MSNBC that the pending release of the sailors shows how diplomacy between U.S. and Iranian officials “is working.”
“Hopefully this will be resolved, and it won’t be an issue that we’re talking about in a couple of hours,” she said.
HT MSNBC: Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube