News / Middle East

    US Investigating Iran's Brief Detention of US Sailors

    Photo, released by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency Jan. 13, 2016, shows detention of U.S. Navy sailors by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, Iran.
    Photo, released by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency Jan. 13, 2016, shows detention of U.S. Navy sailors by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, Iran.

    The United States welcomed Iran's release of 10 U.S. Navy sailors Wednesday, a day after they drifted into Iranian waters and were detained.

    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.”

    American authorities are still unsure of the circumstances surrounding the crews' detention, Carter said, in part because they have not yet been able "to fully debrief the sailors."

    The freed Navy crew members — nine men and one woman — are now at a U.S. facility in Qatar. Iran also released the two small patrol boats the Americans were using when they were detained.

    WATCH: Related video clip

    Watch: About the Riverine Patrol Boati
    X
    January 13, 2016 11:45 AM
    The United States confirmed that Iran released 10 U.S. Navy sailors Wednesday, a day after they were detained when they drifted into Iranian territorial waters.

    The sailors were traveling through the Persian Gulf from Kuwait toward Bahrain when U.S. controllers lost contact with them Tuesday. Iranian Revolutionary Guards who patrol the Gulf boarded the U.S. vessels and detained the crew members near Farsi Island, Iranian territory roughly midway between Kuwait and Bahrain.

    Questions remain

    A U.S. defense official told VOA that Navy tracking equipment found the sailors' boats to be "dead in the water, and in Iranian water."

    "Why?" he asked. "We're still figuring that out."

    The Navy then "found the boats on Farsi Island, parked with no crew."

    As to whether it was mechanical failure or navigational error that put the sailors in Iranian territorial waters, the official said, "Let the investigation work itself out."

    A U.S. defense official added, "We do know that it likely wasn't mechanical failure. There's a chance that it was navigational error instead, but we really must await completion of the ongoing investigation into the circumstances."

    U.S. sailors under detention in the Farsi Island by Iran's Revolutionary Guards after investigations showed their patrol boats had entered Iranian waters unintentionally, Jan. 13, 2016.
    U.S. sailors under detention in the Farsi Island by Iran's Revolutionary Guards after investigations showed their patrol boats had entered Iranian waters unintentionally, Jan. 13, 2016.

    "The [Obama] administration is pretending as if nothing out of the ordinary has occurred," Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona said in a statement, pointing out that under international law, navy boats do not lose their sovereign immune status when they are in distress at sea.  

    "By failing to affirm basic principles of international law, it places our Navy and Coast Guard vessels and the men and women who sail them at increased risk in the future," McCain said.

    Peaceful resolution

    Kerry praised Iran for "swiftly resolving" the situation.

    "That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong," Kerry said.

    President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 12, 2016.
    President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 12, 2016.

    The State Department said there was no formal U.S. apology to Iran, since the sailors' intrusion into Iranian waters was accidental.

    Iranian television broadcast what appeared to be a brief interview with one of the American sailors, who said the crew apologized for entering Iranian waters by mistake.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif tweeted that he was happy to see "dialogue and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the sailors episode. Let’s learn from this latest example."

    Ramadhan Sharif, a spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards, told Iran’s Aftab News that the U.S. servicemen were questioned while in detention.

    The situation in the Gulf was unfolding as Obama went to Capitol Hill Tuesday evening to deliver his annual State of the Union message, televised live through the country and abroad. The president did not mention the Gulf incident, but did take note of the nuclear agreement reached last year between Tehran and a group of world powers, saying, "The world has avoided another war."

    The nuclear agreement is expected to be implemented in the coming days, following steps Iran has taken to curb its nuclear activities. Western governments have agreed in return to lift long-standing economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

    Farsi Island is home to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps naval base, which may be why the sailors were quickly detained, according to Matthew Kroenig, a senior fellow in The Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

    “Most countries would do the same thing if foreign sailors came that close to a naval base,” Kroenig told VOA.

    Less than a month ago U.S. officials criticized Iran for carrying out a "highly provocative" rocket test near U.S. boats passing through the Strait of Hormuz in the region.

    Chris Hannas in Washington, Nike Ching and Pam Dockins at the State Department, and other VOA journalists contributed to this report.


    Carla Babb

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

    You May Like

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: hamed
    January 15, 2016 10:28 AM
    What do you think about Turkey who turned down the Russian jet ? Do u think, Iran should do the same? You should stop Saudi to support your own people from terrorism

    by: Umer from: Pakistan
    January 13, 2016 11:01 PM
    USA army hired by KSA royal on rent. Dual face of USA, one side support royal Saudi family, other side show sympathy with democratic Saudi prisoners. Is this US democracy?

    by: Mark from: Virginia
    January 13, 2016 6:06 PM
    Too many people, including Sen. McCain, or too eager to beat that war drum every time something happens. I have no beef with what Iran did; we strayed too close to their territory (by accident, awaiting investigation) with an armed vessel and they detained the crew, questioned them and released them. We would do the very same thing if any vessel flying a foreign flag strayed too close to our shores.
    Given such tensions in the Gulf at this time, and past actions and reactions by several nations in that region, it is expected that things like this would happen, also given that human frailty of mind and judgment are involved. It was an error; no harm no foul and both sides did not draw weapons or blood from this encounter.
    The Persian Gulf is a crowded waterway and an important one for several nations. Accidents do happen. Be glad this did not ignite into a lethal confrontation. Be glad that diplomacy and cool heads prevailed and avoided an irreversible unfortunate-ness.
    In Response

    by: lone eagle from: Bangkok, Thailand
    January 14, 2016 11:36 PM
    Bill from USA you are missing the point. Why because a fully armed US Navy vessel would not have provoked the same response from an allied country that did not pose a national security hostile threat to US national security interests or its allies.

    The solution to the recent incident in the Persian Gulf is internationalize the entire gulf since it serves as an international waterway for the entire world because of oil shipments.

    If Iran as a member of the UN would fully comply with all UN treaties such as the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights then it would not be treated as a pariah state. But until it does then it must be regarded as no different than a Colombian drug cartel.
    In Response

    by: Bill from: USA
    January 14, 2016 12:08 PM
    lone eagle, actually you are missing the point. Why would the Iranian Revolutionary Guards ignore two fully armed vessels and crew well inside their territory and allow another bigger armed vessel come inside their territory? Actually, what country would allow such a thing?!
    In Response

    by: lone eagle from: Bangkok, Thailand
    January 14, 2016 2:22 AM
    Mark you are missing the point. Iranian Revolutionary Guards could have ignored what happened and allow the US Navy to come in and retrieve the vessel since this patrol vessel did not pose a threat. But Iranian Revolutionary Guards opted to seize the vessel and its crew that will in all likelihood encourage future Revolutionary Guard units to be more aggressive in the future against the US Navy in the Persian Gulf. The young Revolutionary Guard hotheads may well be encouraged by this recent action of theirs to ramp up the stakes.

    The US is simply kicking the can down the road for the next administration and this recent action by the Revolutionary Guards raises the question who is in charge of Iran's military that allows Iranian rules of engagement that may cause the next Revolutionary Guard vessel to be blown out of the water.


    by: Mrs. Tara Screamweiner from: LA
    January 13, 2016 12:29 PM
    Obama claims “we need to focus on destroying” ISIS, omits fact NATO arming, funding ISIS “We need to focus on destroying ISIL,” the president stated, adding that ISIS militants “need to be rooted out, hunted down and destroyed.” But in the real world, the White House and several NATO nations, particularly Turkey, are arming and funding ISIS-linked militants.

    A leaked 2012 Pentagon document revealed the U.S. and other NATO nations deliberately backed al-Qaeda in Iraq, which morphed into ISIS, and other Islamic extremist groups to overthrow Syrian president Bashir al-Assad. “The Salafist [sic], the Muslim Brotherhood and AQI [al-Qaeda in Iraq] are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” the Pentagon document stated. “The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support [this] opposition, while Russia, China and Iran ‘support the [Assad] regime.’”

    This support continues to this day. For one thing, the White House gave ISIS a 45 minute warning before bombing their oil tankers by dropping leaflets advising jihadists to flee before air strikes in Syria. “Get out of your trucks now, and run away from them. Warning: air strikes are coming. Oil trucks will be destroyed. Get away from your oil trucks immediately. Do not risk your life,” the leaflet read.

    by: Daniel from: Seattle
    January 13, 2016 10:55 AM
    Since American Naval vessels and Servicemen are now Iran's to seize at their own discretion, I guess all that's left for Americans to do is thank them for giving them back.
    Americans are still free to feel anyway they want about this, just know that your feelings have no bearing on this observable fact. Our vessels are theirs to seize.
    In Response

    by: Nathan
    January 14, 2016 12:12 PM
    @Daniel
    You are provided with hard facts, not opinions. Accepting the facts is not a matter of choice in a discussion, it's a necessity. You are right, it seems very unlikely but yet that it what actually happened.
    In Response

    by: Daniel from: Seattle
    January 14, 2016 8:34 AM
    I have no control over what you choose to accept. I only know that there's no part of this explanation which sounds even remotely feasible to me. Frankly, I'm shocked at how ham-handed and flagrant this piece of dissemblance is, but I am even more shocked at the blind uinquestioning obedience and total lack of basic skepticism of those trying to foist it on the rest of us.
    In Response

    by: Nathan
    January 13, 2016 4:57 PM
    @Daniel

    You fail to understand that the boats could not move on their own due to mechanical failure.

    So they couldn't be commanded to leave, escorted out or any sort of action that would require the boats to use their engines.

    What Iran did is in accordance to international norms and treaties.

    The Armed vessels inside their territory were towed to safety, the sailors and their intentions were processed, they were provided with food, blankets and rest time and after less than 24 hours they were released, with no arms shot, no harm done to any of them.

    The sailors also acted based on international treaties, they lied down their weapons and lowed to be searched to show no intention of aggression. Two military vessels armed to the teeth with armed sailors in another country's territory close to a military site of that country is not a good first step to be situated in, so the sailors acted wisely.
    In Response

    by: Daniel from: Seattle
    January 13, 2016 1:28 PM
    How's about a verbal command to leave? A shot across the bow? An escort out of their waters? Shall I continue with any number of other contingencies available to them aside from boarding and seizing our vessels?

    You can believe the spin that this is some great diplomatic success if you want, what else can they say at this point? They certainly aren't going to come out acknowledge an act of aggression that they have no intention of responding to, in our new paradigm of deference to America's enemy, Iran.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    January 13, 2016 12:31 PM
    You miss the point that the military armed vessels were in Iranian territory. How would do you think the US would respond if armed foreign vessels entered American territory? I repeat, "Armed" vessels.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora