Home » Documents » Document: U.S. CENTCOM Statement on Events Surrounding Iranian Detainment of 10 U.S. Navy Sailors


Document: U.S. CENTCOM Statement on Events Surrounding Iranian Detainment of 10 U.S. Navy Sailors

The following preliminary timeline of the events surrounding the Iranian detainment of 10 U.S. Navy Sailors from January 12-13, 2016, is based upon multiple operational reports received by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) in the first 24-48 hours after the incident. A Navy command investigation initiated on Jan. 14, will provide a more complete accounting of events.

On Jan. 12, two NAVCENT Riverine Command Boat (RCB) crews were tasked with the mission of relocating two RCBs from Kuwait to Bahrain, with a planned refueling en route alongside the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monomoy. The two RCBs were traveling together since they train and deploy in two-boat elements. They departed Kuwait at 9:23 a.m. (GMT). The planned transit path for the mission was down the middle of the Gulf and not through the territorial waters of any country other than Kuwait and Bahrain.

The two RCBs were scheduled to conduct an underway refueling with the USCGC Monomoy in international waters at approximately 2 p.m. (GMT). At approximately 2:10 p.m. (GMT) NAVCENT received a report that the RCBs were being queried by Iranians. At approximately 2:29 p.m. (GMT) NAVCENT was advised of degraded communications with the RCBs. At 2:45 p.m. (GMT) NAVCENT was notified of a total loss of communications with the RCBs. Immediately, NAVCENT initiated an intensive search and rescue operation using both air and naval assets including aircraft from USS Harry S. Truman and the U.S. Air Force, and U.S. Coast Guard, U.K. Royal Navy and U.S. Navy surface vessels. At the time of the incident, two carrier strike groups were operating nearby. USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike group was 45 miles southeast of Farsi Island and Charles de Gaulle carrier strike group was 40 miles north of Farsi Island. NAVCENT attempted to contact Iranian military units operating near Farsi Island by broadcasting information regarding their search and rescue effort over marine radio, and separately notified Iranian coast guard units via telephone about the search for their personnel. At6:15 p.m. (GMT), U.S. Navy cruiser USS Anzio received a communication from the Iranians that the RCB Sailors were in Iranian custody and were “safe and healthy.”

NAVCENT’s initial operational reports showed that while in transit from Kuwait to Bahrain the RCBs deviated from their planned course on their way to the refueling. The command investigation will determine what caused the change in course and why the RCBs entered into Iranian territorial waters in the vicinity of Farsi Island.

At some point one RCB had indications of a mechanical issue in a diesel engine which caused the crews to stop the RCBs and begin troubleshooting. As the RCBs travel together, the second RCB also stopped. This stop occurred in Iranian territorial waters, although it’s not clear the crew was aware of their exact location. While the RCBs were stopped and the crew was attempting to evaluate the mechanical issue, Iranian boats approached the vessels.

Based upon initial operational reports, the first boats on scene were two small craft with armed personnel on board. Soon after, two more Iranian military vessels arrived on scene also with armed personnel on board.

Initial operational reports indicate there was a verbal exchange between the Sailors and the Iranians but no exchange of gun fire. Armed Iranian military personnel then boarded the RCBs, while other Iranian personnel aboard the Iranian vessels conducted armed over-watch of the boats with mounted machine guns. At gunpoint, the RCBs were escorted to a small port facility on Farsi Island where the U.S. Sailors disembarked and were detained for approximately 15 hours. At this point there are no indications that the Sailors were physically harmed during their detainment. The Navy command investigation will focus on the Sailors’ treatment while in Iranian custody, including any interrogation by Iranian personnel. All indications are that the RCB crews were detained by Iranian military personnel operating from Farsi Island.

The Sailors departed Farsi Island at 8:43 a.m. (GMT) Jan. 13, aboard the two RCBs. The Sailors were later transferred ashore by U.S. Navy aircraft from the cruiser USS Anzio and the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. Other Sailors took charge of the RCBs and continued transiting toward Bahrain, the boats’ original destination. The RCBs arrived in Bahrain at 10:38 p.m. (GMT) Jan. 13.

A post-recovery inventory of the boats found that all weapons, ammunition and communication gear are accounted for minus two SIM cards that appear to have been removed from two handheld satellite phones.

The Sailors are in good health and continue to go through the reintegration process. The Navy command investigation continues and more details will be provided when it is completed.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    Does Our Navy teach Basic Navigation? Using a Magnetic COMPASS, . As in ABC (Assault Boat Coxswain) Coastal Navigation was stressed as well as basic Chart reading. something does not add up. Sounds like the way Sat Nav Operated back in the 80’s.

    • sferrin

      Hopefully Iran hasn’t figured out how to spoof GPS.

      • disqus_zommBwspv9

        I still favor a squadron or 2 of F/A-18’s having GPS error and dropping on Farsi Island instead of there normal bombing range in that area. So Sorry, our mistake

        • John Nemitz

          Yeah, this was very stupid conduct by the Iranians. They have Farsi Island out in the middle of the Arabian Gulf, far from the Iranian mainland. It would make for a very inviting retaliatory target, if we were to do so (which, of course, we won’t), or following any future problems with the Iranians.

          • publius_maximus_III

            It’s Farsi Island naval blockade time — sixteen LCS’s, or one Arleigh Burke DDG, ought to be enough.

      • Tim Dolan

        If you are operating under the assumption they can’t yet, you are not planning or operating very smartly.

    • MarlineSpikeMate

      Have you looked at the navy over the last 15 years, USS Porter, USS Avenger, USS Guardian, USS Port Royal, the list goes on and on.. they are not good at navigating!

      • disqus_zommBwspv9

        Yeah, was looking at my books on navigation this evening. Dead reckoning, RDF, compass, other navigation aids. Maybe i am too old school. I remember my first coxswain test still. This was 1973. One question still stands out. Q, what end of the boat hook do you use when coming alongside a seaplane?

        • MarlineSpikeMate

          Yeah good stuff for sure. I’m guessing you don’t use the pointy end to avoid poking a hole in the thin aluminum?

          • Curtis Conway

            There are still seaplanes on the planet and the Japanese fly some of them.

            bottom line is “Context is everything”, and the only context that is important for those in uniform is: their mission in the region, and following standing orders. The standing and respect of US forces specifically, and the forces afloat in general, has been diminished in the eyes of the Iranians, and some of their neighbors, for that is how they think. It’s cultural, and it AIN’T our culture. We got our people back safe and sound, but the next incident will be MUCH more difficult, current standing orders from former Secretary Gates not withstanding. This was almost Benghazi all over again because we underestimated our adversary.

            It’s a shame we cannot get a report on what was going on in the EM spectrum at the time.

    • you think a compass is so accurate?

      • disqus_zommBwspv9

        Of course if the compass card is kept correctly and you are aware of current and wind drift and set. Plus keeping the course charted with hourly DR plots. Then there is the noon sun shoot for your midday position Providing they also boxed the compass on a know range

        • MarlineSpikeMate

          Yes, as Sailboater said, a compass is accurate with variation given on the chart and deviation from the compass card.. They also had a radar.. which they could have easily used to second check there position by doing a range fix…

          • Curtis Conway

            And, of course, the SAT PHONES didn’t know where they were.

    • Bhess

      I don’t think that’s the whole story but it’s the most I’ve read of the incident so far.

    • draeger24

      do you honestly think these guys “strayed into Iranian waters”? First, the Iranians consider the entire Gulf, theirs, and this was perfect diversion op. They were bushwacked…perfect time to put in a diversion for the ballistic missile firing.

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  • Bhess

    I’ll be honest I’d be thinking of the Pueblo had I been in their shoes.

  • Jay

    Celestial navigation, evidently a lost art in the Navy.

  • TS

    Granted it might have been a navigational error on our parts, but the mullahs should not have displayed the photos of sailers being treated like that. It was not right.
    Lessons learned, check and double check your instruments, when you pass by them.

    Every dog has it’s own day.

  • OleSalt_1

    The sailors were shabbily treated – like damned prisoners (with hands raised) in the video that was shown worldwide. It gave the impression that the US was helpless & was willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of the so called “diplomacy”. What did Kerry do? He apologised. The USN/ military deserved better.

    • Tim Dolan

      While their treatment was poor, we do not exactly have the best relations with Iran right now and some of our political folks are threatening to attack them if they get elected. If you are on the receiving end of that, you would not be happy either and might think nefarious thoughts about us.

      If the above is what actually happened, then it was our bad our boats strayed into their waters, so an apology is appropriate. The sailor’s treatment however was not, but then they were captured by the extremist elements of Iran, so things worked out better than I thought they would. This indicates high probability of improved relations and less likely the next incident will cause as many problems.

      • DBG8489

        An apology from a US Navy Lieutenant violates the POW Code of Conduct. They aren’t authorized to apologize – ever. If they’d been to SERE school, they’d know this. If they did go to SERE and simply failed to follow the Code, then someone needs NJP or worse…

        • Tim Dolan

          I was thinking of Kerry’s SecState apology, that one was appropriate. The Lt. should not have had to do anything but name and rank and maybe an explanation for rendering assistance, which is all the Iranians should have required before rendering assistance. However, the final results are better that some other alternatives.

    • John Nemitz

      Kerry was probably especially anxious to do whatever he could to quickly end the situation, as he did not need another swift boat incident plaguing him.

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  • Joey Bagdano

    No mention of how it came bout whether Lt violated naval code by his effusive apology.

  • Larry McAneny

    The boats deviated on their way to the refueling? Not afterward? Does that mean that the refueling took place in Iranian waters? They seem to have caught Iranian attention only ten minutes after refueling, thus with the larger Coast Guard vessel close by? I don’t understand why that vessel was not involved.

  • Russ Neal

    Iran has been in a consistent state of war with the United States since 1979 while we have pretended this is not so. Our strategy is to appease them to death until we are all friends again. The apologetic behavior of the Lt. is consistent with that of the administration and our standing orders to not shoot until you have been killed. We will see how well this strategy works out in due time.

  • John Nemitz

    There are three (3) parties that are at fault for this unfortunate incident from
    occurring, which are:

    1) Commander, U.S. Fifth Fleet (COMFIFTHFLT) headquartered in Bahrain. There is NO WAY those two small patrol boats should have been transiting in the open waters of the Arabian Gulf* unescorted by a “surface combatant” ship (a cruiser,
    destroyer, or at the very minimum, the smaller Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

    2) The Saudi Arabians. As this news article points out, the two patrol boats were allowed to navigate via the territorial waters of Kuwait and Bahrain. But when the patrol boats reached Saudi Arabian territorial waters, they had to veer many miles out to sea, so they would not be in Saudi Arabian territorial waters. That is something I immediately recognized the day the Sailors were taken as captives / prisoners / hostages by the Iranians. Their patrol boats were out to sea far from
    the Saudi Arabian coastline, which put them precariously close to Farsi Island.

    So why did Saudi Arabia deny the U.S. Sailors permission to very peacefully navigate through their territorial waters, as Kuwait and Bahrain did? The Saudis are supposed to be allies of the United States. You DO NOT treat allies in such a reprehensible manner! I wish just one news outlet pick up on this salient point and also justifiably point their finger at Saudi Arabia, instead of giving them a free pass.

    3) And last, but most certainly not least at fault were the Iranians themselves. There is no responsible nation that would ever take Sailors into custody, because they very innocently violated that country’s territorial waters, due to mechanical breakdown of the vessels. If that were to happen in the United States, the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Coast Guard would assist the crew in any way possible, including ensuring the crew had sufficient amounts of potable water and food, and even assist with getting the broken down boat running again, including providing fuel, if required.

    I know this critical point first hand, because I served in the U.S. Navy for 24 years, and during that time, each and every ship I served onboard assisted other vessels at sea when their ship broke down, or caught fire.

    *The U.S. Navy changed the name from the “Persian Gulf” to the “Arabian Gulf” several years ago, although other countries, and even other departments within the
    United States still call it the “Persian Gulf.”

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  • publius_maximus_III

    Received the following in an email from someone I know, but at a minimum it is third hand information, so have no idea as to it’s validity, and do not personally know the author. But since it is stated as opinion instead of fact, I will share it with the USNI News community, asking everyone to keep that in mind:
    ==============================================

    Subject: Former Seal Officer on the Iran/boat situation
    A former Navy Seal’s opinion.
    [Name omitted by me] Former Navy Seal on the Iran situation.

    I rarely pull out my dusty old trident, but in this case, here goes. I was a Navy SEAL officer in the 1980s, and this kind of operation (transiting small boats in foreign waters) was our bread and butter. Today, these boats both not only had radar, but multiple GPS devices, including chart plotters that place your boat’s icon right on the chart. The claim by Iran that the USN boats “strayed into Iranian waters” is complete bull$#it.

    For an open-water transit between nations, the course is studied and planned in advance by the leaders of the Riverine Squadron, with specific attention given to staying wide and clear of any hostile nation’s claimed territorial waters.

    The boats are given a complete mechanical check before departure, and they have sufficient fuel to accomplish their mission plus extra. If, for some unexplainable and rare circumstance one boat broke down, the other would tow it, that’s why two boats go on these trips and not one! It’s called “self-rescue” and it’s SOP.

    This entire situation is in my area of expertise. I can state with complete confidence that both Iran and our own State Department are lying. The boats did not enter Iranian waters. They were overtaken in international waters by Iranian patrol boats that were so superior in both speed and firepower that it became a “hands up!” situation, with automatic cannons in the 40mm to 76mm range pointed at them point-blank. Surrender, hands up, or be blown out of the water. I assume that the Iranians had an English speaker on a loudspeaker to make the demand. This takedown was no accident or coincidence, it was a planned slap across America’s face.

    Just watch. The released sailors will be ordered not to say a word about the incident, and the Iranians will have taken every GPS device, chart-plotter etc. off the boats, so that we will not be able to prove where our boats were taken.

    The “strayed into Iranian waters” story being put out by Iran and our groveling and appeasing State Dept. is utter and complete BS from one end to the other.”

    Sent from AOL Mobile Mail

    • draeger24

      Ditto, brutha…my only disagreement would be that those Iranian skiffs were poorly armed, and, the SOP has been “don’t be confrontational with the Iranaians…show restraint”…what crap…these boats were bushwacked in Int’l waters…

  • Marjus

    I don’t get it. If the boats did not really have mechanical issues why did they not churn water for the nearest friendly landmass or ship once they realized what was going on? Even if they were hailed at gunpoint technically inside Iranian waters those two riverine craft are teeming with weapons themselves. What were the Iranians going to do, open fire on them as they sped away on the eve of the “Iran deal” and with TWO freaking carrier battle groups in the immediate area? The Iranians and their craft would have been toast once the SOS went out and would have been guilty (firing the first shots) of starting the first naval clash between them and the US in almost 20 years!

    This whole episode reeks of complacency and an unwillingness of the US sailors to show some spine once they realized what was going on due to their own mistakes. Also how does Iran capture 2 US boats in the middle of TWO carrier battle groups without anyone noticing until the rendezvous point/time with the Coast Guard cutter was missed. Excuse me? What happened to all of the drones, aircraft and ships allegedly monitoring the Persian Gulf? If Iran can capture 2 boats and 10 sailors from under our noses in the Gulf, then we need to shut up boasting about anything in that waterway.

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  • draeger24

    The boats were at their RDVZ site, awaiting the Cutter, and
    they were in Intl waters, but, the Iranians consider the entire Gulf
    “theirs”. The Iranians were taking heat in the media for their ballistic missile test. What better diversion is there to claim “a potential provocation by US forces”….these guys were probably very confused as to what to do, because, if you remember, the current mantra in the surface navy is to be praised for “restraint”, especially with
    the Iranians in the Gulf, just as we have not fired on the Iranians for all
    their mock attacks in the Gulf. Remember the idiot CJCS Mullen praising these Skippers for their “restraint”…what crap…they should have lit them up – we have been emboldening them ever since 2009 with this “restraint” baloney. The
    surface warfare navy has not been in a war mindset for a very long time, with
    the exception of firing a few cruise missiles and boarding the occasional
    pirate vessel…This LT acted poorly, but in the current atmosphere, he will be
    at first, praised, then fed to the wolves. Better off to have lit the Iranians up than to have had one’s command taken over, armchair Admirals and State DEPT hacks be damned. Those Iranian “skiffs” were poorly armed…the Surface Navy needs to get back in the game…and to those who will say…”but what about the
    Iranians?”…well, what about them…they fear strength, which we, at the
    present time, do not project. We are more like John Candy in STRIPES handing
    our weapons over to the Czechoslovakians.”There ya go boys, yep hand’em
    over, fellas…” Let’s get back in the game…the next time there is a provocation, BLOW THEM OUT OF THE WATER.

  • Some points that need clarification: How can you get lost unless you were relying just on GPS. No paper chart track? Too much tech and not enough seamanship. 2. You have guns and ammo and you surrender? Never surrender. 50 cals can do a lot of damage to any unarmored boat. Why could they not jump into the one boat that was operational and blow the other up? The LT needs to face a court. First he surrendered w/o firing a shot, his nav. was crap, and finally and most importantly he gave comfort to the enemy by making that statement. Where was the enlisted leadership? No Chiefs to guide him. Give me a fast ship for I intend to go in harms way … I guess 40knts. is not fast enough. Of course “steamboat” Kerry takes all the credit. One last question – did he get replacement medals for the ones he threw at the White House. Bad day for my Navy. MMCS(SW)(SS) USN Ret.

  • KC135TopBoom

    The fact the Iranians were armed when they boarded, and had armed vessels on watch indicate the Iranians were going to seize the RCBs, even though by international law Iran was required to assist vessels in distress.
    But the unexplained course change the RCBs had made, may indicate navigational interference (GPS, etc.) by the Iranians. In other words, this could have all been a set up by Iran in the first place.

  • old guy

    I”LL SAY IT AGAIN> SET UP. I can’t wait until this gang of traitorous buns out of office. To bad the Republi-scums don’t have the guts to impeach it. C’MON TRUMP!

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