Iran Frees 10 U.S. Navy Sailors Unharmed, Calling Them ‘Unprofessional’ But Not Spies

The 10 U.S. Navy sailors detained in Iran Tuesday have already been released after U.S. officials apologized and admitted that drifting into Iranian waters was a mistake.

And Iran’s Revolutionary Guards stressed on state TV that “the Americans have undertaken not to repeat such mistakes.” The freed sailors were not harmed, but rather detained in good conditions and treated with “Islamic compassion,” an IRG spokesman ensured, The New York Times reported.

The Pentagon confirmed that the sailors — nine men and one woman — weren’t hurt, NBC News added.

The sailors were freed early Wednesday after the U.S. apology. They departed Iran’s Farsi Island — the location of a major Iran naval base — aboard the same vessels they had been operating when the tense and unfortunate incident occurred. They were released into international waters in the Person Gulf.

Afterwards, the freed sailors were brought ashore by Navy aircraft.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter was pleased that the freed sailors left Iran Wednesday and safely returned to the U.S., according to USA Today.

“I want to personally thank Secretary of State John Kerry for his diplomatic engagement with Iran to secure our sailors’ swift return.”

The entire incident was simply an unfortunate mistake, and Iranian officials seem to have accepted the Navy’s explanation for why the 10 freed sailors found themselves in the country’s territorial waters. Though he called them “unprofessional,” Iran’s Navy chief, Gen. Ali Fadavi, admitted that the Americans’ presence near Farsi Island “was not for espionage or other harmful purposes.”

He didn’t, however, go so far as to say that taking the sailors into custody was a mistake, but called the move “necessary measures” since U.S. forces are in the region. American naval vessels are often in the Persian Gulf near Iran collecting intelligence and this fact is a constant source of tension.

U.S. military officials have said that the sailors were on two riverine, high-speed patrol boats used to patrol rivers and the coast. These boats often patrol near Bahrain, and on Tuesday, they were on a routine mission traveling from Kuwait to Bahrain. But the vessels didn’t show up at a larger ship to refuel, as scheduled, and the military lost contact with them.

The boats had drifted into coastal waters near Farsi Island because one had experienced mechanical problems; the other boat followed to offer help. Iran said the boats illegally traveled more than a mile into its territorial waters and accused the sailors of trespassing.

The IRG also confiscated GPS equipment that would “prove that the American ships were ‘trespassing’ around in Iranian waters.” General Fadavi claimed that the sailors drifted because of a failure in their boats’ navigation system. He also accused the nearby USS Harry S. Truman aircraft carrier of making confrontational “maritime and aerial” moves after the Americans were taken into custody.

Immediately after the sailors were detained, diplomatic officials and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry scrambled to free them and worked overnight. As the secretary went to the House chamber for President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, the secretary seemed confident of success, overheard assuring someone that they were going to get the sailors out of Iran.

Now that those diplomatic efforts have been successful and the sailors have been freed, the U.S. will conduct an investigation into the incident.

The episode comes at an anxious time. On Saturday, the U.S. military released a video that appears to show an Iranian military vessel firing unguided rockets near — not at — the USS Harry S. Truman, other warships, and some commercial craft on Dec. 26 in the Strait of Hormuz. The IRG rockets were reportedly fired from less than a mile.

[Photo By Uncredited photographer / Associated Press ]