Following a tense evening and flurry of diplomacy, Iran has released the 10 US sailors who were on two US Navy boats that drifted into the country’s territorial waters yesterday (Jan. 12) and were detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard (IRGC).
The sailors, who were on a training mission, were detained on Iran’s Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf after one of their vessels suffered a mechanical failure. They were released at around 3:43am ET.
“After it became clear that the US combat vessels’ illegal entry into the Islamic Republic of Iran’s waters was the result of an unintentional action and a mistake and after they extended an apology, the decision was made to release them,” the IRGC said, according to the state-run news agency FARS.
The incident came as Iran is just days away from having sanctions on its export of crude oil lifted under a nuclear deal with world powers, and just hours before US president Barack Obama gave his annual State of the Union speech, in which he mentioned the nuclear agreement brokered by his administration.
The US Navy said, after the sailors were returned to US custody, there were “no indications that the sailors were harmed during their brief detention.” They underwent medical exams on USS Anzio before being taken to the American navy base in Bahrain, officials told NBC.
The IRGC were stern in their statements about the release, underlining that “the Americans have undertaken not to repeat such mistakes.” Earlier, they had even said the boats were “snooping” in Iranian waters, and the country’s navy chief Gen. Ali Fadavi said the US Navy showed some “unprofessional behavior.” He added that Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif demanded an apology from US secretary of state John Kerry.
In public statements made today, neither Kerry nor defense secretary Ashton Carter made any mention of an apology, but expressed their gratitude to Iranian authorities for the quick resolution of the incident. “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.