WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Navy has fired a second commander in connection with the 10 American sailors who wandered into Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf in January and were captured and held by Iran for about 15 hours.
Vice Adm. Kevin M. Donegan, commander of Naval Forces Central Command, has relieved Capt. Kyle Moses of his duties as head of the command's Task Force 56. Moses has been reassigned.
A U.S. official says additional punishments against seven other sailors are under review and decisions will be announced next week. The seven include the squadron commander who already was fired and reassigned, and his executive officer, as well as three of the sailors who were detained.
Donegan says he initially took administrative action against Moses based on the preliminary results of the investigation into the Iran incident. He says that after going over the results of the final investigation he decided that more action was necessary.
The U.S. official says that Rear Adm. Frank Morneau, head of Navy Expeditionary Combat Command, is considering whether additional actions should be taken against Cmdr. Eric Rasch, who was executive officer of the unit when the incident occurred. He was reassigned last month, before the final investigation was completed.
To date, no action has been taken against Cmdr. Greg Meyer, who was serving as commander of the squadron when the incident happened. He is no longer in a command job, but he is one of the seven who is facing possible discipline.
The official said that in addition to Rasch, Meyer and three of the detained sailors, there also may be action taken against an officer and an enlisted sailor who were based in Kuwait and had oversight of the boat teams.
Several other sailors have already received administrative reprimands in connection with the January incident.
The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.
Iran detained the sailors, nine men and one woman, after their boat drifted into Iranian waters off Farsi Island, an outpost in the middle of the Persian Gulf that has been used as a base for Revolutionary Guard speedboats since the 1980s.
The sailors were on two small armed vessels, known as riverine command boats, on a 300-mile journey from Kuwait to Bahrain, where the Navy's 5th Fleet is located. The incident, while brief, raised tensions between the U.S. and Iran because of images Iran published of the soldiers kneeling with their hands on their heads. It caused political uproar at home, too, coming on the day of President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address and months after the signing of a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from financial penalties.
An early account of the incident said the crew stopped when a diesel engine in one of the boats appeared to have a mechanical issue. The second boat also stopped.
At that point they were in Iranian territorial waters, "although it's not clear the crew was aware of their exact location," the report said.
While the crew was trying to assess the mechanical problem, two small Iranian craft carrying armed personnel approached, and later two more Iranian military vessels arrived. A verbal exchange ensued between the Iranians and Americans, but there was no gunfire.
The sailors were taken onto Farsi Island.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in a series of phone calls, used the personal relationship he has formed with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to work out the crews' release.