Islamic Revolutionary Guards seized Two US Navy boats and detained 10 sailors for breaking international law in the Persian Gulf.
The nine men and one woman were held at an Iranian base on the Farsi island in the Persian Gulf after they were arrested nearby on Tuesday. The tiny outpost has been used as a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats as far back as the 1980s.
The US navy said the sailor departed the island at 0843 GMT on board the boats they were arrested with. They were picked up by Navy aircraft and other sailors took control of their boats for a return voyage to Bahrain, where the US 5th Fleet is based.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard published images of a detained US sailors, showing them sitting on the floor of a room. They look mostly bored or annoyed, although at least one of the sailors seems to be smiling. The sole woman had her hair covered by a brown cloth. The pictures also showed what appeared to be their two boats.
Gen. Ali Fadavi, the navy chief of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard said Zarif had "a firm stance" during the telephone conversation with Kerry about the presence of the sailors in Iran's territorial waters and said they should not have come and should be apologized. "
US Navy Apology
"After determining that their entry into Iran's territorial waters was not intentional and their apology, detained American mariners were released in international waters," a statement posted online by the Guard said Wednesday.
Vice President Joe Biden, speaking later to "CBS This Morning," the Americans made an apology.
US officials also blamed mechanical trouble for the incident. They had said on Tuesday that they would secured the crew and ships safely and promptly.
Fadavi said the American boats had shown "unprofessional acts" for 40 minutes before being picked up by Iranian forces after entering the country's territorial waters. He said Tehran did not consider the US Navy boats violating Iranian territorial waters as "innocent passage."
The sailors were nonetheless allowed to make contact with the US military, based on Iran's "responsibilities and its laws" late Tuesday, he said.
According to a senior US official, the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who forged a personal relationship with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif during his three years of nuclear negotiations, called his Iranian counterpart immediately on learning the incident. Kerry "personally engaged" with Zarif on the issue, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Kerry learned about the incident around 12:30 pm EST as he and US Defense Secretary Ash Carter met their Filipino counterparts at the State Department, the official said. Kerry later issued a statement saying he would like to express his "gratitude to the Iranian authorities for their cooperation in swiftly resolving this matter."
Iran Release of US Sailors
All 10 US Navy sailors arrested by Iran after drifting into their territorial waters a day earlier have been freed, the United States and Iran said Wednesday.
Carter said he was pleased with the sailors' release and he thanked Kerry for his diplomatic efforts. "Around the world, the US Navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress, and we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved," Carter said.
The sailors were part of the Riverine Squadron 1 based in San Diego and were deployed to the US Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain. When the US lost contact with the boats, the ships attached to the USS Harry S Truman aircraft carrier strike group began searching the area along with aircraft flying off the Truman.
Last February, Iran sank a replica of a US aircraft carrier near the strait and said it was testing "suicide drones" that could carry out kamikaze missions on naval ships. It has also challenged foreign cargo ships operating in the Gulf, opening fire at least two in April and May.
In one of those incidents, Iran temporarily seized a Marshall Islands flagged cargo ship over what it said was a commercial dispute before releasing it with its crew more than a week later.