Navigational Blunder Blamed for Capture of US Sailors
Iran incident a 'debacle,' retired admiral says
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2016 1:56 AM CST
This picture released by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows detention of American Navy sailors by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, Iran.    (Sepahnews via AP)

(Newser) – It was human error, not mechanical trouble, that led to 10 US service members being detained by Iran after straying into its waters, according to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. "They obviously had misnavigated," he told reporters on Thursday, per the AP. "They did not report this navigational error at the time. It may be that they were trying to sort it out at the time they encountered Iranian boats." The two small US Navy boats had been on their way from Kuwait to Bahrain and a defense source tells CNN that the engine trouble one boat was experiencing wasn't the reason they were off course, but made it impossible to get back to international waters quickly when they encountered Iranian boats near Farsi Island, which hosts an Iranian naval base.

The sailors were handed back to the US after being held overnight and Carter says they are still being debriefed. Asked about Iranian video of the sailors kneeling on their boats, he said: "Obviously I don't like to see our people being detained by a foreign military," the AP reports. Other officials say the boats were returned, apparently with all their equipment intact. Experts are wondering whether it was the crew or somebody higher up the chain of command behind the blunder. "This was a debacle," a retired admiral with Persian Gulf experience tells the New York Times. "The Iranians closely monitor their territorial waters, their airspace, and their land borders. We have standard operating procedures to avoid incidents like this, and they obviously weren’t followed here."