Something doesn’t smell right to me with this whole incident regarding the 10 U.S. Navy sailors that were detained in the Persian Gulf by Iran last week. Thankfully, they were subsequently released, but, there is a lot that just doesn’t add up.
As the story goes, according to details provided by CENTCOM, the two U.S. Navy boats, Riverine Command Boats (RCB), departed Kuwait at around 12 noon local time. They were headed south on a roughly 300 mile trip to Bahrain which is the headquarters of the Navy’s fifth Fleet. Evidently, the planned route was to navigate 300 miles down the center of the Persian Gulf staying out of any territorial waters except that of Kuwait and Bahrain and refueling along the way via a US Coast Guard Cutter. The Navy, and others, routinely operates in these very strategic international waters and the mission was to transfer the boats from Kuwait to Bahrain.
Let’s take a look at the facts as we know them and what has been publicly disclosed.
The Persian Gulf: the length of it is approximately 615 miles beginning at Shatt al Arab delta, located at the southern tip of Iraq near the port of Umm Qasr to the Strait of Hormuz. Its width varies from as narrow as 35 miles, at the Strait of Hormuz, to as wide to 200 miles.
Farsi Island: This is a tiny island, ¼ mile square, that the Iranians claim as their property even though it sits smack dab in the middle of the Gulf and about 80 miles or so outside of their territorial waters. If you drove a boat down the middle of the Persian Gulf, you would most likely run right into that piece of dirt sticking out of the water.
Mariners Weather: The water current in the Gulf is very minimal and there aren’t any tidal factors to speak of. Also, I researched the weather conditions for the 12th of January and the seas were calm to normal conditions and the wind was minimal.
The Navy Riverine Command Boats: These puppies are made for combat. They are fully armored, low profile and have numerous tactical communication systems. Furthermore, they have a lot of heavy and medium machine guns as well as very sophisticated optics, radar and external sensors.
According to published specifications these boats are powered by twin diesel engines, are very fast and maneuverable which enables them to conduct command and control, tactical mobility and fire support operations in hostile riverine and near-shore environments. Personnel for these combat boats would include the Officer in Charge, a Boatswain’s Mate (BM) who is the driver, a Gunners Mate (GM) who is in charge of the weapons, an Engineman (EN) and probably a Communications and Electronics technician. All of these sailors would be crew qualified to operate on the boat as well as carry out their specific duties of their rates.
Pleasure craft – these gun boats are not.
Now supposedly, one of the boats had an engine casualty which required both boats to come to “all stop” and attempt to repair an engine. Not a problem as that would be SOP. However, during the repair job both boats somehow “drifted” into Iranian Territorial Waters and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy intercepted and over powered them with their flimsy fiberglass boats.
This is very curious to me on many fronts.
First of all, as recently as 2014, I have been underway in the Persian Gulf and in my experience the seas this time of year are calm. I have been on-board a 35ft Safe Boat, about the size of these two navy boats, been at “All Stop” – engines not propelling the boat at all – and didn’t drift at all.
As I mentioned, the current, tides and winds would not have caused significant drift due to the low-profile design of the Riverine Boat so I can’t imagine the two boats just simply drifting into Iranian controlled waters – like totally non-observant pleasure craft boaters out on a Sunday sail.
Secondly, the whole crew would not be working on the engine. It would be just the Engineman and maybe the Boatswain’s Mate. The rest would be on look-out as that would be standard procedure. The Persian Gulf is like glass, you can see for miles, especially at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, so I highly suspect that the Iranians were able to creep up and approach without being spotted.
Thirdly, the boat can resume operations with just one engine. That is exactly why they have two engines. Even if the engine problem was deemed a catastrophic failure, the other RCB could have towed the disabled vessel.
Fourth, the RCB has highly capable communication systems on board as well as satellite phones. I have used both type of communications on the Persian Gulf myself so I have an issue with the reported loss of communication.
Lastly, as someone who has commanded a U.S. gun boat while patrolling the waters off of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and stared down Cuban patrol boats, I understand how tense a situation can be when a “non-friendly” vessel comes within shooting distance. Also, I have commanded diplomatic motorcades in Iraq within yards of the Iranian border and on many occasions been confronted and surrounded at check points by men with machine guns – all of who were not smiling at all.
But, two things disturb me. First, what kind of game are the Iranians playing? You do know they are playing a game? And secondly, why did our highly trained sailors let Iranians sailors on fiberglass boats overtake two superior and totally armored U.S. Navy Riverine Boats?
In this very tense part of the world, the guy that flinches first can cause an international incident. I know this very well through direct experience. Been there, done that. Having said that and not trying to be a Monday morning quarterback here but, I’m not sure I would have let my crew be taken hostage by anybody, especially the terrorist Iranians.
Something happened out on the water in the Persian Gulf that sunny afternoon a week ago of which we may never know. But, it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to speculate that the Iranians, in an unprovoked action, took the opportunity to overtake our vessels as a sign of strength for them and weakness for us and our administration came up with the “drifting” story so as to not undermine the recent Iranian Nuclear Deal, would it?
Viper One Six