Two U.S. Navy boats have been taken into Iranian custody. The Pentagon says it lost contact with two small vessels in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday after they were captured by the Islamic republic’s coast guard.
Ten American sailors were on board when one of the boats reportedly suffered mechanical issues and drifted into Iranian waters. Reports suggest the crew and boats were taken onto Farsi Island – an area of land completely cut off to the public because of secret activities carried out by the Iranian government.
However Pentagon officials have received assurances from Iran that the crew and vessels will be returned safely and promptly – as they may have been taken by mistake. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirmed the boats were moving near Iranian waters when the US lost contact with them.
Cook says: ‘We have been in contact with Iran and have received assurances that the crew and the vessels will be returned promptly.’ Once they are freed, they will be able to carry on their journey to Bahrain.
NBC News reported that 10 American sailors were on a training mission at the time who are all believed to be safe. They then moved into territorial waters inadvertently before they were captured.
Secretary of State John Kerry has reportedly been calling his Iranian counterparts to sort out what has happened. He has forged a personal relationship with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif through three years of nuclear negotiations.
There are reports the Iranians have admitted the capture was a mistake and have agreed to release the boats within hours. Retired Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey, an NBC News military analyst, said the seizure of American boats is ‘very bad news’ and highlights how the Navy may have failed to have surveillance on their boats.
He told MSNBC: ‘We simply can’t allow ground, air or naval units to be seized by a foreign hostile power. ‘I hope they’re back real quickly. This is an affront to our military presence in the Gulf and will unsettle our allies in the region.’ A senior administration official said: ‘Earlier today, we lost contact with two small US naval craft en route from Kuwait to Bahrain. ‘We subsequently have been in communication with Iranian authorities, who have informed us of the safety and well-being of our personnel. We have received assurances the sailors will promptly be allowed to continue their journey.’
According to the New York Times, The Navy’s 5th patrolsthe Persian Gulf, and has a fleet that includes an aircraft carrier. Lately there has been several confrontations between Western forces stationed in the area. Just two weeks ago the Iranian Navy harassed an American carrier and a French frigate in the Strait of Hormuz. They launched rockets that passed within 1,500 yards of the United States aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman.
On December 31, President Hassan Rouhani ordered the accelerated production of missiles in response to possible new U.S. sanctions. In a letter to the defense minister published on the president’s website, Rouhani said Iran won’t accept any limitations on its missile program.
Both the U.S. and Iran insist the missile program is not part of a landmark agreement Tehran reached with world powers in July that is to lift international sanctions in exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program.