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US Officials: Captured Boats Missed Refueling Meet-up


FILE - This Nov. 2, 2015, image provided by the U.S. Navy, shows Riverine Command Boat (RCB) 805 in the Persian Gulf. Iran is holding 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two boats, similar to the one in this picture.

FILE - This Nov. 2, 2015, image provided by the U.S. Navy, shows Riverine Command Boat (RCB) 805 in the Persian Gulf. Iran is holding 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two boats, similar to the one in this picture.

A refueling rendezvous that went astray and an engine issue are key pieces of the puzzle behind the incident involving the 10 U.S. Navy sailors who were held earlier this week by Iran, according to U.S. officials.

The U.S. Navy boats and their crews were detained for 16 hours by Iranian Revolutionary Guards after apparently veering into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf near Farsi Island. The boats had intended to meet up with a U.S. Coast Guard boat for refueling, "but never rendezvoused," a U.S. official told VOA.

The sailors were traveling through the Persian Gulf from Kuwait toward Bahrain when U.S. controllers lost contact with them Tuesday. The Revolutionary Guard members boarded the U.S. vessels and surrounded the crew members, a second U.S. official said.

"They went off course somehow. Initial indications are that when they realized they were in Iranian waters, the engine was not able to get to full power for at least one of the boats," the official said.

An investigation is underway into further details surrounding the incident. When it happened, a U.S. strike group in the area was tasked with the search and rescue.

"When conducting a search and rescue, you are allowed to enter into countries' territorial waters," one official said. Some assets available included the guided missile cruiser USS Anzio, fixed wing aircraft, and helicopters.

The search and rescue was "simultaneous" with diplomatic outreach, one of the U.S. officials said, and searchers did locate the missing vessels at Farsi Island, but could see the sailors were not in the boats.

"We had visual of the boats," the official told VOA.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said resolution of the incident was a success for diplomacy, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he was grateful to have the service members “back in our hands.”

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Korea, Japan and Egypt.

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