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January 18, 2016

US probes course deviation by naval crew in Iranian waters

The US is investigating into why its naval personnel, captured by Iran, deviated from their planned route near Farsi Island, even as a preliminary probe suggests mechanical issues with their boat.

By Srijanee Chakraborthy

The US is investigating into why its naval personnel, captured by Iran, deviated from their planned route near Farsi Island, even as a preliminary probe suggests mechanical issues with their boat.

The US Naval Forces Central Command (Navcent) explained in a report the sequence of events that led to the arrest of ten of its men by Iranian forces on 12 January. They were released subsequently.

According to Navcent, the detained sailors were assigned to relocate two Riverine Command Boats (RCB) from Kuwait to the navy’s 5th Fleet in Bahrain, with a planned re-fuelling at US Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy in the middle of the Gulf.

"After explanations the US gave and the assurances they made, we determined that violation of Iranian territorial waters was not deliberate."

Before losing contact with the crew, Navcent received a communication from them that they were being questioned by Iranians. A search and rescue operation was launched thereafter.

After repeated attempts to contact the Iranian counterparts regarding the rescue effort near Farsi Island, the US Navy cruiser USS Anzio was informed by the Iranians that the soldiers were in their custody.

While the initial investigations have shown that the RCBs deviated from their planned route, an in-depth probe was launched on January 14.

According to the preliminary report, a mechanical issue in the engine of one of the boats caused the crew to stop in the Iranian waters.

The RCBs were first approached by two small craft with armed Iranian personnel on board and was later joined by two military vessels with machine gun-wielding guards.

The US crew was then escorted to a small port facility on Farsi Island and detained for 15 hours, before being released.

The Navcent report said that all weapons, ammunition and communication gear onboard the boats were accounted for but for two SIM cards that appear to have been removed from two handheld satellite phones.

Iran claimed that the personnel were released after the US apologised for the trespass.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari was quoted by the Islamic Republic News Agency: "After explanations the US gave and the assurances they made, we determined that violation of Iranian territorial waters was not deliberate, so we guided the boats out of Iranian waters."

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