PENTAGON—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.
A Pentagon statement said there was no indication the nine men and one woman were harmed while in Iranian custody.
The sailors were on two small boats in the Persian Gulf between Kuwait and Bahrain when U.S. controllers lost contact with them on Tuesday. U.S. officials said they were picked up near Farsi Island, and the Pentagon said Wednesday they left the island in the same two boats before being taken ashore by Navy aircraft. The sailors are currently at a U.S. facility in Qatar, a senior defense official said.
The Navy is investigating the incident.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter welcomed the sailors’ release.
«I am pleased that ten U.S. Navy sailors have departed Iran and are now back in U.S. hands.» Carter said in a statement. «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 praised Iran for quickly resolving the matter.
«I want to express my gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter,» Kerry said. «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.»
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.»
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said earlier the group had been released after the U.S. apologized for the intrusion into its territory and gave assurances it would not happen again.
The State Department said the U.S did not issue an apology over the incident.
“There is no truth in reporting that Secretary Kerry apologized to the Iranians. As the Secretary said in his statement this morning, he expressed gratitude to Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter, and noted that the peaceful and efficient resolution of this issue is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong,” spokesman John Kirby said.
Iranian State television quoted General Ali Fadavi, the Navy chief of the Revolutionary Guard, saying a mechanical problem in the sailors’ navigation system caused them to enter Iranian waters.
«There may have been mechanical failure on one of the vessels, but it is unclear at this time,» a defense official told VOA. «My assumption is that they were in Iranian territorial waters when they were detained.»
Ramadhan Sharif, spokesman for the Revolutionary Guard, told Iran’s Aftab News that the U.S. servicemen were questioned while in detention.
President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 12, 2016.
U.S. President Barack Obama did not mention the situation in his annual State of the Union speech Tuesday, but he did mention a nuclear agreement reached last year between Tehran and Western powers, saying «the world has avoided another war.»
The agreement is expected to be implemented in the coming days, following Iran’s steps 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, Matthew Kroenig, a senior fellow in The Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security, told VOA Tuesday.
“Most countries would do the same thing if foreign sailors came that close to a naval base,” Kroenig explained.
The news comes less than a month after U.S. officials accused Iran of launching a «highly provocative» rocket test near U.S. boats passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Chris Hannas contributed to this report