Iran’s military has seized US Navy boats and sailors in the Persian Gulf

An Iranian warship.
An Iranian warship.
Image: AP Photo/Fars News Agency, Mahdi Marizad
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Update 1:30am ET, Jan.13

Iran’s military is holding two US Navy boats and their crew on Farsi Island in the middle of the Persian Gulf, after it seized them on Jan. 12, according to US media reports.

The ten American sailors on the two naval vessels were on their way from Kuwait to Bahrain when they briefly strayed into Iran’s territorial waters, a US official told CNN. One of the sailors is female, the Iranian FARS news agency reported.

According to NBC, which first reported the story, the vessels strayed into waters claimed by Iran after one experienced mechanical difficulties. The sailors were then arrested by the Iranian coast guard.

US officials said the sailors are safe and that they expect to quickly resolve the situation. Officials told the Associated Press that Iran will soon release the American sailors, acknowledging that the incident was a mistake. According to CNN the sailors could be released on Wednesday (Jan. 13) if Iran follows through on its promises, and US officials said there was no indication the capture was a hostile act.

It’s a mishap that comes amid renewed tensions between the US and Iran, and just hours before US president Barack Obama delivers his annual State of the Union speech. Obama is expected to prominently mention the Iran nuclear deal that his administration orchestrated, over the opposition of many lawmakers and allies such as Israel.

Iran is only a few days away from having sanctions lifted on its export of crude oil, and the release of more than $100 billion in cash that was frozen, after meeting all the requirements of the nuclear deal that it signed last year with world powers. That should give it ample reason to quickly release the Americans.

If not quickly resolved, the US sailors’ captivity could add to a list of chronic irritants between Washington and Tehran; topping the list is the imprisonment of Jason Rezaian, a Washington Post reporter.

This is a developing story that will be updated.