W.J. Hennigan
Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON: The Navy on Thursday announced disciplinary action against nine service members in connection with an embarrassing international incident this year that resulted in the temporary detainment of 10 U.S. crew members by the Iranian military.

The partially redacted report, which examined how and why two small U.S. Navy speedboats mistakenly wandered into Iran’s territorial waters, was formally released at the Pentagon by Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations.

The investigation found the sailors and commanding officers did not conduct proper mission planning Jan. 12 for the 300-mile journey from Kuwait to Bahrain, and veered off course almost immediately after leaving port to take an unauthorized shortcut through Iranian territorial waters.

To complicate matters, a diesel engine on one of the camouflaged riverine boats broke down, about which the sailors failed to communicate with home base once they ran into trouble. The sailors were left stranded about two miles from a military pier on Iran’s Farsi Island — where the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps operates a base.

The boats were quickly surrounded by the Iranian military, and the crew members were held for 15 hours, an incident that provoked international headlines and several rounds of high-level diplomacy before the release of the sailors and their vessels.

“Those sailors clearly know our actions on that day in January did not live up to our expectations of our Navy,” Richardson said. “We have an obligation to continually examine our personal and professional conduct to ensure that we always execute our mission.”

The report found the “boat captains and crews were derelict in performing their duties to expected norms and standards.”

The Navy said three officers were relieved of command in connection with the incident and six other service members likely will face disciplinary action.

The mission was riddled with mistakes from the beginning. The crews had just 24 hours’ notice that they were going to make the journey and stayed up all night to fix the boats for the trip, the longest the crews had attempted. They left four hours late and tried to save time by taking a direct route, an unauthorized shortcut that took them through both Saudi and Iranian waters.

The mechanical problems were only part of a litany of troubles that befell the U.S. Navy that evening in the volatile waterway. The crew members did not realize they were near Farsi Island because they did not correctly use their navigation system’s map.

The investigation found Iran was correct in probing why two American boats were in its territorial waters, beyond the internationally recognized 12-mile limit. But the report said it was wrong to hold them at gunpoint, record them and publicly release the footage.