Iran seized two SIM cards from captured soldiers

In first official account of last week's seizure and release of 10 sailors, questions remain how the sailors strayed from their course.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Sailors at time of capture
Sailors at time of capture

The United States military on Monday revealed that SIM cards for two satellite phones were missing from the two recovered boats of the 10 sailors who were detained and subsequently released by Iran last week.

In its first official account of Iran's seizure and release of the sailors, the military said the two cards were the only items found missing, according to CBS News.

Iran released the 10 navy sailors on Wednesday, a day after detaining them. Iranian media reported that the 10 were released after it was determined they had entered Iranian waters "unintentionally," and after the U.S. "apologized" for the incident, as per Tehran's demands.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest later denied the reports, saying he was not aware of any discussions between Washington and Tehran about an American apology for the incident and noted one "certainly" had not been given.

CBS News noted that key questions, such as why the sailors had deviated from their planned route to enter Iranian territorial waters, remain unanswered in the account released by U.S. Central Command on Monday.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter indicated last week that the sailors strayed from their course due to a “navigational error” but did not provide further details.

"A Navy command investigation initiated January 14 will provide a more complete accounting of events," Central Command said, according to CBS, adding the investigation will focus on the sailors' treatment while in custody, including any interrogation by Iranian personnel.

Around the time of the sailors’ release, Iran made public a video showing the Americans kneeling aboard their boats with their hands on the heads.

The boat seizure happened just hours before President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address and just days before implementation of the Iran nuclear deal with the West, which triggered the end of international sanctions on Iran and a U.S.-Iran prisoner exchange.

The timeline released Monday said the sailors were not mistreated during approximately 15 hours in Iranian hands. It said a post-recovery inventory of the boats found that all weapons, ammunition and communications gear was accounted for, minus two SIM cards apparently removed from two hand-held satellite phones.

The sailors were traveling in small armed vessels known as riverine command boats, headed from Kuwait to Bahrain, which is the location of the Navy's 5th Fleet.

The boats were seized by Iran and escorted at gunpoint to Farsi Island, which is in the middle of the Gulf and home to an Iranian military facility, according to CBS News.

Along the approximately 50-mile journey they were to have refueled by linking up with a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, the Monomoy, in international waters. The timeline said that approximately 10 minutes after the scheduled refueling, Central Command's naval headquarters at Bahrain received a report that the boats were being questioned by Iranians.

The account does not explain who sent this report or whether it included other details.

About 19 minutes later, the naval headquarters "was advised of degraded communications with" the two boats, the account added. After another 26 minutes, the naval headquarters was notified of a total loss of communications with the boats. It does not explain who advised the headquarters of this problem or its apparent cause.

CBS News also noted that the official account did not explain the reason for the sailors’ strayed from their course. It said only that the crews "deviated" from their planned course. It made no reference to the navigation error cited by Carter last week.