Questions continue to emerge over Iran’s interdiction of two Navy vessels and 10 sailors on January 12. The two crews and boats were released after 15 hours after being paraded for Iranian state-controlled media. The officer in charge apologizing for the role he and his mates played in the incident, while averring that they had been treated well by their captors on Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. Among the unanswered questions is how the two Riverine Command Boats – which are normally used for river traffic – came to be so far out in the Persian Gulf. According to the Defense Department, the two boats were headed to Bahrain from Kuwait when they encountered engine problems and ran out of fuel.
When the sailors were released, all weapons, ammunition and equipment were returned to them by the Iranian military. However, Iran retained the SIM cards from the two satellite telephones in the possession of the crews. Besides the information about the sat-phones, DoD did not provide new details about how the U.S. Navy crews apparently deviated from their course and entered Iranian territorial waters. The commanding officer of the crews told Iranian media that they entered Iranian space because of a “navigational error.” DoD did not say whether the SIM cards contained classified or significant information.
U.S. Central Command oversees military operations in the Middle East said the two Navy vessels and crews left Kuwait on January 12 at around noon local time and headed for Bahrain, which is more than 300 miles away. The range of fully-fueled Command Riverine Boats is in excess of 350 miles. The two craft were supposed to go on a course within international waters. At 5 p.m., the boats were to meet the US Coast Guard ship Monomoy to take on fuel. However, the two boats allegedly went off course before then despite the GPS navigational tools at their disposal that would have shown their location minute by minute.
A report from the Pentagon said, “The command investigation will determine what caused the change in course and why the (boats) entered into Iranian territorial waters in the vicinity of Farsi Island.” According to the report, at some point the crews stopped in the water to address a mechanical issue with the diesel engine on one of the boats. “This stop occurred in Iranian territorial waters, although it’s not clear the crew was aware of their exact location,” the report said.
One of the boats reportedly sent a brief radio message to headquarters at around 5:10 p.m. that Iranian vessels were approaching. The second message was indecipherable and communications were abruptly cut off by 5:45 p.m., the report said. Search and rescue aircraft from the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier were deployed to a location 40 miles southeast of Farsi Island. French and British warships in the region also participated. The Navy also tried to contact the Iranian military by broadcasting that a search and rescue mission was underway, while it also contacted the Iranian coast guard by phone.
U.S. commanders launched search and rescue aircraft from the Harry S. Truman, an aircraft carrier then 40 miles southeast of Farsi Island. French and British warships in the region also participated.
Video and photographs circulated by Iran shows that the crews of the two boats were ordered to disarm, kneel and put their hands on their heads in surrender. The two armed boats were escorted at gunpoint to a military pier on Farsi Island, where the crews were kept. At 9:15 p.m. that day, the Navy heard from Iran that the sailors were in “safe and healthy” in Iran’s custody.
"At this point there are no indications that the sailors were physically harmed during their detainment," the report said. "The Navy command investigation will focus on the sailors' treatment while in Iranian custody, including any interrogation by Iranian personnel." The sailors and their vessels left Farsi Island at 11:43 a.m. on January 13 and rendezvoused with the USS Anzio cruiser. They were airlifted to shore and being debriefed at a U.S. base in Qatar.