Iranian Revolutionary Guards boarded and seized two U.S. Navy patrol craft, took control of the weapons and later accepted an apology from one of the 10 U.S. sailors taken into custody, according to Iranian video of the incident released Wednesday.
The video and stills released by the Iranians contrasted with statements from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Secretary of State John Kerry and the White House focusing on the diplomacy that won the release of the boats and the crew, rather than on what appeared to be the humiliating circumstances of the capture.
The videos from Iran's semi-official Fars news agency, and the Guards' Tasnim news agency, showed the U.S. sailors kneeling on deck -- hands clasped together behind their heads -- as Iranians in uniform searched the ship and lined up confiscated automatic weapons and belts of ammunition. The videos also showed an Iranian poring through what appeared to be passports taken from the crew.
Vice President Joe Biden denied that any apology was made to gain the release of the two ships and the crews, but the video showed an unidentified U.S. sailor saying "It was a mistake. That was our fault, and we apologize for our mistake. We did not mean to go into Iranian territorial water."
"The Iranian behavior was fantastic while we were here. We thank you very much for your hospitality and your assistance," said the sailor, who was said by Iranian media to be a commander of one of the boats.
Other Iranian video and stills showed the U.S. sailors -- nine men and a woman -- later having a meal and lounging on the floor on pillows in a holding room.
"The Americans have an extended an apology," a Fars report said, before the U.S. sailors and the two 49-foot Riverine Patrol Boats were freed. The boats were escorted by Iranian Revolutionary Guards vessels back into international waters where they were met by the Ticonderoga class Navy cruiser Anzio.
However, Biden said on "CBS This Morning" that "No, there was no apology. When you have a problem with the boat, (do) you apologize the boat had a problem? No," Biden said. "And there was no looking for any apology. This was just standard nautical practice."
A statement from the Navy's Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain said that the 10 sailors were taken aboard the Anzio and later flown by helicopter to Qatar for medical check. Sailors on the Anzio then took the two patrol craft back to Bahrain.
In a statement, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Command said that "the U.S. combat vessels' illegal entry into the Islamic Republic of Iran's waters was the result of an unintentional action and a mistake, and after they extended an apology, the decision was made to release them. The Americans have undertaken not to repeat such mistakes,"
According to the Navy and the Pentagon, the two boats were enroute from Kuwait to Bahrain when one of them foundered -- either because of running out of fuel or engine problems. Iran claimed that the two boats were boarded three nautical miles inside Iranian territorial waters off Farsi island in the middle of the Persian Gulf.
The Fifth Fleet said an investigation of the incident was underway but retired Navy Commander Chris Harmer, who served in the Fifth Fleet, said "there's no excuse for U.S. Navy sailors to allow Iranian sailors to board their vessel."
"The Navy has a lot to answer for here," said Harmer, adding that the incident "showed professional incompetence at every level." He questioned whether there was a navigation plan for the trip from Kuwait City to Bahrain, or whether the crew followed the plan.
And when one of the boats foundered -- "Step one, pass a tow line" and get into friendly waters, said Harmer, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War. "That's epic incompetence right there."
The initial reports of the incident also indicated a "failure to have sailors act in accordance with Code of Conduct if taken captive -- a very bad day for us," Harmer.
The seizure of the boats Tuesday came hours before President Obama made his State of the Union address. Obama made no mention of the incident in his speech and was immediately criticized by House and Senate Republicans.
"It's humiliating for Barack Obama and therefore the United States to have American sailors held hostage during his final State of the Union," Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a member of the Senate Amred Services Committee, told CNN.
In a statement after the release, Defense Secretary Carter said "we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved" and he thanked Secretary of State Kerry for his contacts with his Iranian counterpart on freeing the boats and the sailors.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the release "underscores the importance of the diplomatic lines of communication between" between the U.S. and Iran that have opened up since the deal with Iran to rein in its nuclear technology in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Earnest declined comment on the circumstances of capture of the boats and their crews. "We're still trying to learn more about how exactly that all happened," he said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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