Subscribe to Breaking News emails

You have successfully subscribed to the Breaking News email.

Subscribe today to be the first to to know about breaking news and special reports.

Navy Finds Widespread Failures in Iran's Capture of 10 Sailors in January

by Alex Johnson /
Image: IRGC shows U.S. navy vessel
A photo released in January by Iran's Revolutionary Guards shows the detained U.S. boats.HO / AFP - Getty Images

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

The 10 U.S. sailors detained in January by Iran inappropriately turned over sensitive information — including passwords and operational capabilities — to the Revolutionary Guard, the Navy said in a highly critical report released Thursday.

The heavily redacted 219-page investigative report blames poor planning, command failures and complacency for the Jan. 12 incident, in which the sailors' two small riverine command boats strayed first into Saudi and then into Iranian waters, where they were captured and held overnight.

The sailors were videotaped, and propaganda video released by the Iranian government showed them "acting happy" under orders from their captors.

One of the sailors, a captain, was taped reading an apology — after the U.S. government had already negotiated his and his colleagues' release.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

A U.S. military official described the incident to NBC News last week as "a calamity of errors."

Capt. Kyle Moses and Cmdr. Eric Rasch, the executive officer at the time of the incident, have been fired, and the report recommended further disciplinary action against the sailors involved.

U.S. Naval Forces Central Command concurred with most of the report, objecting mainly to criticism of what investigators called systemic shortcomings in naval training.

Image: IRGC shows U.S. navy vessel
A photo released in January by Iran's Revolutionary Guards shows the detained U.S. boats.HO / AFP - Getty Images

Otherwise, Central Command said, the incident was "wholly preventable," agreeing in a 10-page response with the report's conclusions that the unit was "unprofessional," poorly led, inadequately equipped and undisciplined.

The sailors failed to "adhere to the basic core values of the United States Navy," commanders said. "It is simply good fortune that prevented an earlier incident in this unit."

According to the report, the sailors were so complacent that they didn't even think to check their own navigation systems to figure out where they were.

That turned out to be only about a mile and a half from Farsi Island and about 1.6 miles from a harbor that is home to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps naval installation, according to the investigation.

IMAGE: Map of U.S.-Iran confrontation
The U.S. Navy vessels strayed within about a mile and a half of both Iran's Farsi Island and a Revolutionary Guard naval installation on Jan. 12NBC News

"Had any crew member zoomed into the purple dot, they would have discovered the purple dot was Farsi Island," it said.

To make matters worse, one of the boats then suffered engine problems and stopped dead in the water.

Rather than call for assistance, the sailors kept silent and tried to repair the engine themselves, investigators found. They managed to fix the problem, but Iranian forces had already closed in and were able to capture all 10 sailors before they could speed away.

'Had any crew member zoomed into the purple dot, they would have discovered the purple dot was Farsi Island'

'Had any crew member zoomed into the purple dot, they would have discovered the purple dot was Farsi Island'

Once in Iranian custody, at least some of the sailors provided information "beyond name, rank, service number and date of birth," the report said. Iranian forces were given the passwords to their computers and military phones, along with sensitive information about the boats themselves, it said.

The main finding concluded that the sailors were "derelict in performing their duties to expected norms and standards" and accused their immediate commanders of "blatant disregard for the genuine concern of sailors."

Although the report makes it clear that the sailors were in Iran's territorial waters, Adm. John Richardson, the chief of U.S. naval operations, accused Tehran on Thursday of violating international law by "impeding the boats' innocent passage transit."

At a Pentagon briefing, Richardson stressed the steps the Navy had taken since the incident, which he maintained were the result of "the accumulation of a number of small problems."

But Vice Adm. John C. Aquilino, the Navy's deputy chief of operations, acknowledged "a lack of leadership [and] a disregard for risk management processes and proper mission planning standards."

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
MORE FROM news