The U.S. Navy crewmen detained by Iran after their vessels crossed into the country’s territorial waters in January violated the sea service’s code of conduct during their brief imprisonment by Iranian forces, according to a recently completed Navy investigation into the incident.
The code of conduct violations were one of several infractions of Navy standards and practices uncovered during the course of the service’s inquiry into the incident, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told reporters Thursday.
The chain of events that led to the apprehension and detention of the 10 American sailors was “the accumulation of a number of small problems” stemming from the actual unit involved in the encounter to senior commanders who led the Navy squadron and task force that the unit served under, Adm. Richardson said during the briefing at the Pentagon.
So far, nine Navy officers have been fired for their involvement in the incident, in which two Navy patrol boats drifted into the coastal waters near Farsi Island, home to an Iranian naval base in the Persian Gulf.
The Navy officers fired included Cmdr. Greg Meyer, the squadron leader, and Capt. Kyle Moses, head of Combined Task Force 56, the unit in charge of the boat crews when they drifted into Iranian waters.
Navy leaders are also weighing whether to fire several other sailors and officers tied to the January incident, including members of the boat crews who reportedly broke code of conduct rules, Vice Admiral Chris Aquilino, deputy for operations, plans and strategy, said during the same briefing.
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The ongoing inquiries into the code of conduct violations are centered on an public apology given by one of the detained sailors, which was then televised by Iranian state news outlets.
“It was a mistake that was our fault, and we apologize for our mistake,” the U.S sailor, identified as the commander of one of the patrol boats, said during the videotaped apology.
“It was a misunderstanding. 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,” the U.S. sailor added.
On Wednesday, Adm. Aquilino declined to comment on what specific comments Navy investigators were honing in on, in relation to the code of conduct inquiry.
“The specific item that was of concern was the potential to make statements that would harm or be disloyal to the United States [and] that is what the investigation found,” he said.
Other U.S. sailors reportedly disclosed technical information about the patrol boats to Iranian interrogators during their detention, with one sailor handing over the password to a personal laptop confiscated from one of the patrol boats by Iranian forces.
Aside from further disciplinary action against the sailors involved, Navy leaders have also now mandated all sailors undergo survival, evasion, resistance and escape training, also known as SERE, to better prepare Navy personnel to cope with the rigors of imprisonment by enemy forces, according to Adm. Richardson.
The sailors were detained for over 15 hours before American and Iranian diplomats negotiated their release. The incident roiled diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington, as both countries were in the midst of intense negotiations over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.