Tehran released 10 US Navy sailors who were arrested Tuesday after their boats entered Iranian territorial waters.
The US Navy said the American crewmembers were returned safely and there were no indications they had been harmed while in custody.
The nine men and one woman had been held at an Iranian base on Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf after being detained nearby on Tuesday. The tiny outpost has been used as a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats as far back as the 1980s.
The sailors departed the island at 8:43 a.m. GMT aboard the boats they were detained with, the Navy said. They were picked up by Navy aircraft and other sailors took control of their boats for the return to Bahrain, where the US 5th Fleet is based.
“The Navy will investigate the circumstances that led to the sailors’ presence in Iran,” the US statement said.
Earlier Wednesday, an Iranian admiral said the standoff “is being resolved,” after officials concluded that the boats entered Iran’s waters accidentally.
“Investigation shows that entry of American sailors into Iran’s territorial waters was due to mechanical problems in their navigation system,” Gen. Ali Fadavi, Navy chief in Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), was quoted as saying on Iran’s state TV.
US officials had said on Tuesday that Tehran assured them the crew and vessels would be returned safely and promptly.
The Revolutionary Guards said the US had “apologized” for the incident, and promised it would not recur, Iranian state-affiliated media said Wednesday. “After it became clear that the US combat vessels’ illegal entry into the Islamic Republic of Iran’s waters was the result of an unpurposeful action and a mistake, and after they extended an apology, the decision was made to release them,” an IRGC statement said.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter welcomed the release of the 10 sailors. In a statement Wednesday, Carter said he wanted to thank Secretary of State John Kerry for his “diplomatic engagement” on the issue. Kerry has a close relationship with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif after the recent nuclear deal between the Islamic Republic and world powers. Carter also said: “Around the world, the U.S. Navy routinely provides assistance to foreign sailors in distress, and we appreciate the timely way in which this situation was resolved.”
Kerry thanked Iran in a statement on Wednesday: “That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure and strong,” he said.
Read more: timesofisrael.com