US military confirms release of 10 Navy sailors held by Iran

This picture released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows detained American Navy sailors in an undisclosed location in Iran. Iranian state television is reporting that all 10 U.S. sailors detained by Iran after entering its territorial waters have been released. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the sailors were released Wednesday after it was determined that their entry was not intentional. (Sepahnews via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP/NBC/WAVY) –Ten U.S. sailors detained in Iran have been released, according to Iranian state media.

The U.S. military says that 10 sailors briefly held by Iran are back in American care and “there are no indications that the sailors were harmed.”

The U.S. Navy issued a statement Wednesday after Iranian state media announced the sailors had been freed.

The sailors — nine men and one woman — were held overnight on Iran’s Farsi Island. They were taken into custody Tuesday when their two small U.S. Navy riverine vessels drifted into Iranian-claimed waters during a training mission.

The Iranian state news agency released photos and videos showing 10 American sailors during their detention for entering Iranian waters.

Photos: U.S. sailors, boats released by Iran

A statement from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard read aloud on state TV on Wednesday said the sailors had been released back into international waters after the U.S. apologized and clarified the incursion was unintentional.

Tehran earlier had hinted that the sailors would soon be freed when the country’s Navy chief said he didn’t believe “harmful” moves were at play when their boats entered Iranian waters.

U.S. officials sprang into action, with Secretary of State John Kerry calling his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif in hopes of securing the sailors’ release ahead of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.

Iran’s Navy Chief Gen. Ali Fadavi said early Wednesday that an investigation showed the American vessels had entered his country’s waters due to a mechanical issue — which jibed with what U.S. officials had suggested.

“It was not for espionage or other harmful purposes,” he said on state-run TV. “Diplomatic measures have been taken and we are looking forward to receiving final instructions which can lead to their release.”

Fadavi earlier had said that the sailors demonstrated “unprofessional” behavior and that Iran was demanding an apology from Kerry, but backed off that allegation in his latest remarks.

Still, he defended the decision to take the sailors into custody as “necessary measures” given the presence of U.S. forces in the region.

American naval ships routinely navigate the waters of the Persian Gulf near Iranian territory, and their presence there frequently has been a source of tensions between the two nations.

Senior U.S. military commanders 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, in the Strait of Hormuz.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter issued a statement on the release of the sailors Wednesday morning:

I am pleased that ten U.S. Navy sailors have departed Iran and are now back in U.S. hands. I want to personally thank Secretary of State John Kerry for his diplomatic engagement with Iran to secure our sailors’ swift return. Around the world, the U.S. Navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress, and we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved.”

Secretary of State John Kerry also released a statement about the sailors Wednesday:

I’m very pleased that our Sailors have been safely returned to U.S. hands.

As a former Sailor myself, I know the importance of naval presence around the world and the critical work being done by our Navy in the Gulf region. I’m proud of our young men and women in uniform and know how seriously they take their responsibilities to one another and to other mariners in distress.

I want to express my gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter.

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.”

 

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