Ten American sailors who were captured by Iran when their boats drifted into Iranian waters are set to be freed after the U.S. apologised to Tehran.
The Pentagon says it lost contact with two small riverine vessels in the Persian Gulf on Tuesday after they were seized 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 and the sailors were seized.
However, a leading Iranian official has now said they could be freed as early as today after saying the situation was being resolved after they demanded an apology from the U.S.
The detainees have spent the night at an Iranian base on Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf and are expected to be transferred to a U.S ship in the region.
General Ali Fadavi said the American boats have shown ‘unprofessional acts’ for 40 minutes before being picked up by Iranian forces in the country’s territorial waters.
He said: ‘US naval force and their frigate showed an unprofessional behavior and had air and naval moves for 40 minutes in the area.
‘Certainly US presence in Persian Gulf and their passage has never been innocent and we do not deem their passage as innocent.’
Fadavi said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif ‘had a firm stance’ during a telephone conversation with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ‘on their presence in our territorial waters and said they should not have come and should apologize.’
He added: ‘This process is underway now and will not last long. The Guard naval force will carry out orders of top commanders regarding this case as soon as we receive them.’
Pentagon officials have also received assurances from Iran that the crew and vessels will be returned safely and promptly – as they may have been taken by mistake.
However, fears that the situation may escalate have been raised after Fars news, Iran’s state media, accused the sailors of ‘snooping’.
Revolutionary Guards Navy confiscated GPS equipment, accoridng to Fars, which would ‘prove that the American ships were “snooping” around in Iranian waters.’
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.
The 10 American sailors were on a training mission at the time, according to NBC News.
They then moved into territorial waters inadvertently before they were captured. The Truman Carrier Strike Group, which is in the vicinity, launched a search and rescue effort, according to the Navy Times.
The 10 sailors are all understood to be safe.
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, although it will unlikely happen overnight.
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.’
Republican presidential candidates were quick to pile in, blaming President Barack Obama ahead of tonight’s State of the Union address.
Ben Carson was first to point out the unfortunate timing, saying on Twitter: ‘White Potus is preparing to talk about his so called ‘accomplishments, 10 of our American sailors are being held by Iran.
Jeb Bush followed suit, saying: ‘If our sailors aren’t coming home yet, they need to be now. No more bargaining. Obama’s humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again.
Marco Rubio added: ‘Iran needs to release them and the boats immediately… Iran is testing the boundaries of our resolve.’
President Obama apparently has no plans to address the situation in his speech tonight, according to Jen Psaki, the White House communications director.