UPDATE (4:57 PM PST) Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency is reporting that the U.S. ships had illegally entered Iranian waters near the highly sensitive territory of Farsi island. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have a major naval base on the island with prolific military activities. As a result, the area is entirely restricted to visitors. Even Iranian authorities need special permission to enter the island. Iranian officials have confiscated US property, including GPS equipment from the American sailors. The IRGC is claiming that the confiscated equipment will “prove that the American ships were ‘snooping’ around in Iranian waters.”
(4:35 PM PST) Speculation about US activity in the Persian Gulf continues to grow. The two captured navy vessels were small unit riverine crafts, designed for close-range navigation. The Pentagon is claiming that these two ships experienced “mechanical” difficulties and veered off course, while moving between Kuwait and Bahrain (300 nautical miles apart, a distance usually traveled by large carrier vessels).
(4:00 PM PST): Iran will release the ten American sailors on Wednesday morning, according to AP. Iranian Revolutionary Guards officials say that U.S. personnel will not be released tonight or before President Obama’s State of the Union speech. One of the captured Americans is a female sailor.
On Tuesday, the Iranian military seized two U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf moving between Kuwait and Bahrain. Ten sailors on board the vessels were also captured. The ships are currently being held by Iranian military forces on Farsi Island.
According to The Associated Press, “The crew of two small Navy craft are being held by Iran, but American officials have received assurances from Tehran that the crew and vessels will be returned safely and promptly.”
Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook confirms, “We have been in contact with Iran and have received assurances that the crew and the vessels will be returned promptly.”
— Jon Williams (@WilliamsJon) January 12, 2016
The details of initial contact are still murky. According to NBC News, U.S. officials said the Americans sailors “were on a training mission around noon ET when their boat experienced mechanical difficulty and drifted into Iranian-claimed waters and were seized by Iranian Coast guard.”
Secretary of State John Kerry “learned of the incident around 12:30 p.m. EST as he and Defense Secretary Ash Carter were meeting their Filipino counterparts at the State Department,” reports AP.
Kerry immediately contacted his counterpart in Iran, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, to determine the status of U.S. military personnel and assets in custody. According to U.S. officials, the Secretary is “personally engaged with Zarif on this issue.”
Maritime tensions have been flaring since late December when Iran tested a rocket uncomfortably close to U.S. warships near the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran is extremely protective of its geopolitical dominance in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian military forces have been consolidating control of key trade and supply routes since the fall of Iraq.
Image (AP): Image taken Tuesday, April 7, 2015, released by the Fars News Agency. “Iranian warship Alborz, foreground, prepares before leaving Iran’s waters. Iran dispatched a naval destroyer and another logistic vessel, Wednesday to waters near Yemen as the United States quickened weapons supply to the Saudi-led coalition striking rebels there, underlining how foreign powers are deepening their involvement in the conflict.”