-- Iran’s detention of 10 U.S. sailors in January was preventable and resulted from bad leadership, poor training, bad planning and little oversight of the sailors during their deployment, the Navy has determined in a report unveiled today.
In a measure of the importance the Navy placed on the investigation into the Jan. 12 incident, the comprehensive report was released at a Pentagon news conference today by the Navy’s top admiral, Admiral John Richardson, the Chief of Naval Operations.
The incident and the faults it highlighted would become a case study to prevent future incidents, Richardson said.
"We conduct these investigations to learn what we can in order to prevent similar events from occurring, and where necessary to hold our people accountable where they failed to follow procedures and meet expectations," he said.
The long distance was one that the crews had not trained or planned well for, and they had expressed reservations about the voyage, according to the report. The boats had never traveled that same route to Kuwait since they had been transported as cargo aboard a larger vessel. Iranian interrogators did not believe that the U.S. Navy would send such small boats on such a long trip.
Richardson stressed to reporters today that Iran broke international law by seizing the sailors after their two Riverine craft had strayed into Iranian waters 1.5 nautical miles off of Iran’s Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf.
The report also found that Iran violated the sailors' “sovereign immunity” by searching their boats and for taking photos and videos of the crew while they were detained for 16 hours.
"Those boats and crew members had every right to be where they were that day," Richardson said, because innocent passage through territorial waters for brief periods is recognized internationally.
The report found that the lieutenant in charge of the mission did not conduct a mission briefing, had not used updated navigation charts in crafting a planned route, and had not shared with operations centers the information that would have kept track of the boats' movements through the Gulf.
The long trip to Bahrain got off to a bad start even before it began as crews were up the night before trying to resolve maintenance issues on one of the boats.
A four-hour delay in the original departure time forced a change to a more direct route that took them past Farsi Island, which the crew and officer misidentified as being part of Saudi Arabia.
The vessels had already strayed into Iranian territorial waters off the island when the engine broke down on the boat that required maintenance work the night before. Impromptu repairs were carried out as both boats sat idle about 1.5 nautical miles off the island's main harbor. Just as the repairs were completed, two small boats manned by personnel from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard approached the Riverine vessels and uncovered their 50-caliber machine guns and pointed AK-47’s at the crew.
They soon detained the 10 sailors on their boats with their hands above their heads, an image captured on video that later sparked outrage from American officials.
A total of nine officers and sailors will receive administrative punishments for their role in the incident that could likely end the careers of the officers. The two Commanders in charge of the sailors' units stateside and during their deployment were removed from command prior to the report's release for a loss of confidence.
Other senior leaders were cited for inadequate training and supervision of the Riverine unit based in Kuwait, poor monitoring of the long trip from Kuwait to Bahrain and slow responses when the circumstances of the detention became clear.
The report noted that morale in the Riverine unit was low as crew members were tired from repeated lengthy open-water missions designed to project an American presence in the northern Persian Gulf. And in a foreshadowing of what would happen on Jan. 12, the unit skipped holding pre-mission briefings and maintenance work was not completed.
Three enlisted sailors and the lieutenant in command of the boats will receive administrative action for their actions during and prior to the incident.
At one point during the detention, Iran released a video that included an on-camera apology from the lieutenant in charge of the two boats, which raised questions about the "code of conduct" service members are supposed to follow when detained by a foreign power.
“The specific item that was of concern was the potential to make statements that would harm or be disloyal to the United States," Richardson said.
One of the sailors was faulted for disobeying an order to speed past two Iranian boats that were blocking its path. Some of the sailors provided the Iranians with passwords to their computers and phones as well as details about their boats' capabilities.
One bright spot in the report was the performance of the lone female sailor among the detained sailors who was complimented for having made a video recording of the encounter at sea with her smartphone and for having surreptitiously activated an emergency beacon aboard her boat while she was detained.