The ten American sailors detained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a couple weeks ago have returned to the United States and reunited with their families. Now that they are in safe hands, legal experts are wondering whether or not Iran had the right to capture those sailors in the first place.
On Jan. 13, ten service members of Coastal Riverine Squadron 3 were captured by Iran authorities after accidentally crossing into the state’s territorial waters. The sailors were held for 15 hours before they and their vessels were released to the U.S. Navy.
“The sailors are in good health and we have determined they can return to duty,” Rear Adm. Frank Morneau said.
The military has remained cagey about how exactly the sailors entered Iran territory, and the Americans sailors themselves have come under fire for apologizing to the Iran on video. However it happened, Navy officials and legal experts find the fact that American sailors were detained at all extremely worrisome.
One expert told the Navy Times that the Iranian military lacked the legal standing to detain the sailors.
“This should be very concerning for the Navy community,” said James Kraska, a maritime law expert at the U.S. Naval War College. “This says that U.S. vessels don’t have innocent passage and that their sovereign immunity is not respected.”
According to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the United States follows and Iran has signed, warships have “sovereign immunity” and can cross through another country’s waters so long as they move “continuously and expeditiously.” Vessels that are in distress are also given immunity.
If Iran was worried about American ships lingering in its waters, it could have questioned them and told the sailors to leave immediately. However, it couldn’t board or detain sailors because the ships were in distress.
The Navy is currently investigating how the American sailors were treated in Iranian captivity and how their boats malfunctioned.