Iran frees US sailors swiftly as diplomacy smoothes waters

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Iranian Video Shows U.S. Sailors As They Were Detained

DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Iran released 10 U.S. sailors on Wednesday after holding them overnight, bringing a swift end to an incident that had rattled nerves days ahead of the expected implementation of a landmark nuclear accord between Tehran and world powers.

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Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said it had freed the sailors after determining they had entered Iranian territorial waters by mistake. The sailors had been detained aboard two U.S. Navy patrol boats in the Gulf on Tuesday.

"Our technical investigations showed the two U.S. Navy boats entered Iranian territorial waters inadvertently," the IRGC said in a statement carried by state television. "They were released in international waters after they apologized," it added.

See photos of the U.S. sailors detained:

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Iran releases detained US sailors
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Iran frees US sailors swiftly as diplomacy smoothes waters
This picture released by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows detention of American Navy sailors by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, Iran. Iranian state television is reporting that all 10 U.S. sailors detained by Iran after entering its territorial waters have been released. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the sailors were released Wednesday after it was determined that their entry was not intentional. The nine men and one woman were being held at an Iranian base on Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf after being detained nearby on Tuesday.(Sepahnews via AP)
This frame grab from Tuesday, January 12, 2016 video by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency, shows detention of American Navy sailors by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, Iran. The 10 U.S. Navy sailors detained by Iran after their two small boats allegedly drifted into Iranian territorial waters around one of Iran's Persian Gulf islands a day earlier have been freed, the United States and Iran said Wednesday. (IRIB News Agency via AP)
This frame grab from Tuesday, January 12, 2016 video by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency, shows American Navy boats in custody of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, Iran. The 10 U.S. Navy sailors detained by Iran after their two small boats allegedly drifted into Iranian territorial waters around one of Iran's Persian Gulf islands a day earlier have been freed, the United States and Iran said Wednesday. (IRIB News Agency via AP)
This frame grab from Tuesday, January 12, 2016 video by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency, shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards sort out detained American sailors' weapons in the Persian Gulf, Iran. The 10 U.S. Navy sailors detained by Iran after their two small boats allegedly drifted into Iranian territorial waters around one of Iran's Persian Gulf islands a day earlier have been freed, the United States and Iran said Wednesday. (IRIB News Agency via AP)
This frame grab from Tuesday, January 12, 2016 video by the Iranian state-run IRIB News Agency, shows American Navy boat in custody of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf, Iran. The 10 U.S. Navy sailors detained by Iran after their two small boats allegedly drifted into Iranian territorial waters around one of Iran's Persian Gulf islands a day earlier have been freed, the United States and Iran said Wednesday. (IRIB News Agency via AP)
This picture released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows detained American Navy sailors in an undisclosed location in Iran. Iranian state television is reporting that all 10 U.S. sailors detained by Iran after entering its territorial waters have been released. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the sailors were released Wednesday after it was determined that their entry was not intentional. (Sepahnews via AP)
This picture released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows detained American Navy sailors in an undisclosed location in Iran. Iranian state television is reporting that all 10 U.S. sailors detained by Iran after entering its territorial waters have been released. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the sailors were released Wednesday after it was determined that their entry was not intentional. (Sepahnews via AP)
This picture released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows detained American Navy sailors in an undisclosed location in Iran. Iranian state television is reporting that all 10 U.S. sailors detained by Iran after entering its territorial waters have been released. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the sailors were released Wednesday after it was determined that their entry was not intentional. (Sepahnews via AP)
This picture released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows detained American Navy sailors in an undisclosed location in Iran. Iranian state television is reporting that all 10 U.S. sailors detained by Iran after entering its territorial waters have been released. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the sailors were released Wednesday after it was determined that their entry was not intentional. (Sepahnews via AP)
This picture released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows American Navy boats in custody of the guards in an undisclosed location in Iran. Iranian state television is reporting that all 10 U.S. sailors detained by Iran after entering its territorial waters have been released. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the sailors were released Wednesday after it was determined that their entry was not intentional. (Sepahnews via AP)
This picture released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, shows American Navy boats in custody of the guards in an undisclosed location in Iran. Iranian state television is reporting that all 10 U.S. sailors detained by Iran after entering its territorial waters have been released. Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the sailors were released Wednesday after it was determined that their entry was not intentional. (Sepahnews via AP)
In this Nov. 15, 2014, photo, a Riverine Command Boat from Costal Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 2 escorts the USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) in the Persian Gulf. Iran was holding 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two boats, similar to the one in this picture, on Jan. 12, 2016, after the boats had mechanical problems and drifted into Iranian waters. American officials have received assurances from Tehran that they will be returned safely and promptly. (LaTunya Howard/U.S. Navy via AP)
This Nov. 2, 2015, image provided by the U.S. Navy, shows Riverine Command Boat (RCB) 805 in the Persian Gulf. Iran was holding 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two boats, similar to the one in this picture, on Jan. 12, 2016, after the boats had mechanical problems and drifted into Iranian waters. American officials have received assurances from Tehran that they will be returned safely and promptly. (Torrey W. Lee/U.S. Navy via AP)
In this Oct. 30, 2015, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Riverine Command Boat (RCB) 805, along with its crew members, is shown transiting through rough seas during patrol operations in the Persian Gulf. Iran was holding 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two boats, similar to the one in this picture, on Jan. 12, 2016, after the boats had mechanical problems and drifted into Iranian waters. American officials have received assurances from Tehran that they will be returned safely and promptly. (Torrey W. Lee/U.S. Navy via AP)
In this June 27, 2013, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, a Riverine Command Boat assigned to Coastal Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 4, Task Group 56.7.4, transits open water in the Persian Gulf. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Lewis/U.S. Navy via AP)
This Nov. 2, 2015, image provided by the U.S. Navy, shows Riverine Command Boat (RCB) 805 in the Persian Gulf. Iran was holding 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two boats, similar to the one in this picture, on Jan. 12, 2016, after the boats had mechanical problems and drifted into Iranian waters. American officials have received assurances from Tehran that they will be returned safely and promptly. (Torrey W. Lee/U.S. Navy via AP)
In this Feb. 23, 2013, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors assigned to Riverine Squadron (RIVRON) 2 perform an âEâ stop while conducting patrol operations. Iran was holding 10 U.S. Navy sailors and their two boats, similar to the one in this picture, on Jan. 12, 2016, after the boats had mechanical problems and drifted into Iranian waters. American officials have received assurances from Tehran that they will be returned safely and promptly. (Blake Midnight/U.S. Navy via AP)
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RGC Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi had earlier said that the two U.S. Navy boats entered Iranian territorial waters due to a broken navigation system.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden rejected reports that Washington had offered Iran an apology over the incident.

"No, there was no apology, nothing to apologize for ... and there's no looking for any apology," Biden said on CBS's 'This Morning' program.

A carefully worded statement did not explain how the sailors and their two riverine command boats ended up being detained by Iran, saying only that "the Navy will investigate the circumstances that led to the sailors' presence in Iran."

The sailors were later taken ashore by U.S. Navy aircraft, while other sailors took charge of the boats and headed towards Bahrain, their original destination.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he was pleased the sailors had been freed and appreciated "the timely way in which this situation was resolved."

Kerry thanked Iran for its cooperation in the release of the sailors.

"I think we can all imagine how a similar situation might have played out three or four years ago, and the fact that today this kind of issue can be resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong," Kerry said.

Watch more coverage:

Kerry: Thanks Authorities for Cooperation

Kerry spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif several times as the United States sought to win the release of the sailors, a U.S. official said.

Zarif said on twitter that he was "happy to see dialog and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the sailors episode."

Iranian state television released footage of the arrest, showing the sailors as they knelt down with hands behind their heads and their two vessels being surrounded by several IRGC fast boats.

The video showed weapons and ammunition confiscated from the sailors, who were seen eating food provided by the Iranians. There were also images of American passports being inspected.

The incident raised tensions between Iran and the United States, which, along with other world powers, reached a deal last year under which Iran will curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Some conservatives in both countries, enemies since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, have criticized the deal that is due to be implemented in the coming days.

See more of the history of U.S. and Iranian relations:

31 PHOTOS
United States and Iran Relations throughout time
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Iran frees US sailors swiftly as diplomacy smoothes waters
Two lines of troops loyal to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stand in front of the U.S. Embassy during shooting in the compound, Feb. 15, 1979 in Tehran. (AP Photo)
In this Nov. 9, 1979, file photo, one of the hostages being held at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran is displayed blindfolded and with his hands bound to the crowd outside the embassy. The U.S. and Iran cut off diplomatic ties in 1979 after the Islamic Revolution and the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, where 52 Americans were held hostage for more than a year. Since his inauguration in 2009, President Barack Obama has expressed a willingness to meet with the Iranians without conditions. The U.S. and Iran secretly engaged in high-level, face-to-face talks, at least three times over the past year, in a high stakes diplomatic gamble by the administration that paved the way for the historic deal aimed at slowing Iran's nuclear program. (AP Photo/File)
President Carter faces reporters at the White House as he announces the U.S. will seek economic sanctions against Iran, Dec. 21, 1979 in Washington. Secretary of State cyrus Vance looks on. Vance died Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002. He was 84. Appointed secretary of state by Jimmy Carter in 1977, Vance promoted reconciliation with Russia, human rights as a pillar of American foreign policy, normalization of relations with China and, above all, diplomacy as the alternative to using force. (AP Photo)
This is the entrance to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran where 63 people are being held hostage, seen in 1980. Graffiti on the wall at left reads: "Dear American minority, brothers and sisters (Blacks and Indians) study the holy Koran and start a revolution against U.S. discrimination. God and Iranian Muslim people are supporting you. Down with Reagan." (AP Photo)
Return of the hostages from Iran as they step off the plane in Germany. Barry Rosen is second from the bottom waving with no glasses and a beard. He has just announced that he will be going back to Iran to meet with his captors. The hostages were kept over a year in captivity after the US Embassy was stormed during the Iranian Revolution. Relations with Iran and the US have been improving lately. (photo by Tim Chapman)
A Kurdish family having fled northern Iraq, carry all their worldly possessions, reach the border town of Nossod, Iran. Saddam Hussein crushed the Kurdish uprising in northern Iraq in the aftermath of 1991 Gulf War led by the US and allied forces. (Photo by Kaveh Kazemi/Getty Images)
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, greets thousands of students during his speech at a university stadium in Tehran, Iran Sunday, Dec. 12, 1999. The stadium erupted in cheers when Khatami declared that his nation felt no enmity toward the American people. Iran-U.S. ties have been strained since Washington severed ties over the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Islamic militants. Relations thawed after the May 1997 election of Khatami. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)
An Iranian woman pets a dove caged in the belly of a replica of the Statue of Liberty at the former US embassy compound November 3, 2001 in Tehran, Iran. Iranian authorities opened the former embassy to the public for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the US-backed Shah which ultimately led to the breaking of relations between Washington and Tehran. (Photo by Keivan/Getty Images)
Reza Pahlavi, son of the late Shah of Iran Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, speaks to New York University students December 4, 2001 in New York City. Pahlavi spoke of the need to root out terrorism and the need for democracy in Iran. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
An Iranian man teaches his son the 'death to America' chant during a demonstration after Friday prayers April 5, 2002 in Tehran. The protesters opposed the Israeli incursion into Palestinian-controlled territories. (Photo by Keivan/Getty Images)
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage greets people before giving testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill October 28, 2003 in Washington DC. The Committee is hearing testimony on security threats and the U.S. policy toward Iran. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
An Iranian girl rests during a meeting of the conservative group, the Coalition of Builders of Islamic Iran, in Tehran February 16, 2004. The group has taken a tough stance on the country's nuclear prerogatives and a moderate line on US-Iranian relations and the imposition of Islamic social regulations. The main reformist parties are staying away after a conservative-run political vetting body, the Guardians Council, barred some 2,300 people -- most of them reformists -- from even standing in the February 20 polls. (Photo credit: BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man holds an effigy of U.S. President George W. Bush during a protest against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq in Enqelab Square May 19, 2004 in Tehran, Iran. Demonstrators reportedly hurled petrol bombs, firecrackers and stones at the British embassy. (Photo by Majid/Getty Images)
This 18 January file photo shows Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during her confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will discuss the war in Iraq and tensions with Iran when she meets Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 04 February 2005.(Photo credit: TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) (C) speaks to the media after addressing the U.N. Security Council at the United Nations February 6, 2006 in New York City. Lugar, along with other Senate Foreign Relations Committee members George Voinovich (R-OH) (R) and Norm Coleman (R-MN), spoke on reform at the U.N., Iran and energy conservation. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki speaks during a meeting with relatives of the seven Iranian detainees arrested in Iraq by US forces, in Tehran, 18 May 2007. US troops seized seven Iranians in the northern Iraqi city of Arbil on 11 January from what Iran claims was an official consular building. Mottaki said after meeting the families of the detainees that Iran maintains that they were diplomats working for a 'consulate'. (Photo credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian students walk past an anti-US mural on the wall of the former US embassy in Tehran 24 October 2007. Twenty-eight years ago, 19-year-old Iranian chemistry student Massoumeh Ebtekar agreed to join other students in holding more than 60 Americans captive at their embassy in Tehran, an event that was to last 444 days and leave a rupture in US-Iranian relations that has yet to be healed. For Ebtekar, who was elected last year as a member of Tehran city council, there is no contradiction between her prominent role in the embassy siege and her efforts today for greater moderation in the Islamic republic. (Photo credit: ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
A US soldier carries on March 1, 2008 a platter of mutton and rice offered to the troops by the mayor of the village of Nafet Khana on the Iraq-Iran border, which was destroyed during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war. An Iranian delegation left Baghdad for home today without holding talks with officials from archfoe the United States on the security situation in Iraq, an Iranian official said. Iran and the United States, which have had no diplomatic relations since 1980, held three rounds of talks about Iraq last year, but a fourth round scheduled for last month was postponed. AFP PHOTO/PATRICK BAZ (Photo credit should read PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - July 09: Undersecretary of State William Burns testifies during the Senate Foreign Relations hearing on Iran. On the same day Iran test-fired missiles in a show of force in the Persian Gulf, the Bush administration Wednesday sought to downplay the country???s power and influence. ???For its part, Tehran seems to relish heightening concerns by promoting the illusion that Iran is on the ascendance,??? Undersecretary of State William Burns said in prepared testimony. ???However, Iran is not 10 feet tall, nor is it even the dominant regional actor.' (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
Holding an anti-Bush poster and pictures of Iranian late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, left on the posters, and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right on the posters, Iranians attend a demonstration in front of the former U.S Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2007, in a ceremony commemorating the 28th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy by militant students on Nov. 4, 1979. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft, left, and Zbigniew Brezezinski arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, March 5, 2009, prior to testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S. strategy in Iran. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
Japanese Akiko Saberi, mother of US-Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi, holds press cards and ID's for her jailed daughter at the family's house in Tehran on April 18, 2009. An Iranian revolutionary court has sentenced Roxana Saberi, 31, to eight years in jail on charges of spying for the United States, her lawyer said. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri stands with his father upon arrival at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran on July 15, 2010. Amiri, who claimed he was 'abducted' by US spies last year, denied that he was a nuclear scientist, but said he was questioned by Israelis during his 'harsh' captivity. Amiri had gone missing from Saudi Arabia in June 2009 while on a pilgrimage and surfaced in Iran's Interests Section in Washington on July 13, 2010. Upon his arrival in Tehran he immediately told reporters that he was just a 'simple researcher'. Iranian officials claim he was kidnapped by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States. US officials have denied these accusations. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - JULY 30: (L to R) Laura Fattal, Cindy Hickey and Nora Shourd, mothers of three U.S. Citizens being detained in Iran, hold photos during a protest outside the Iranian mission to the United Nations on July, 30, 2010 in New York City. Josh Fattal, Shane Bauer, and Sarah Shourd, have been held by Irainian authorities since July 31, 2009 after they were detained along the Iraq and Iran border and accused of spying. (Photo by David Goldman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Josh Fattal (C) and Shane Bauer (R), two American hikers released after spending more than two years imprisoned in Iran, were joined by Sarah Shourd (L) and family members in front of a press-filled conference room at the Parker Meridien New York on September 25, 2011 in New York City. Fattal, Bauer, and Shourd were charged with trespassing and espionage, after allegedly crossing the border between Iraq and Iran on a hiking trip. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, right, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talk during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee nomination hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Senator John Kerry stressed the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He described the 'immediate, dangerous challenges' facing the nation as he seeks confirmation to become secretary of state. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 22: Ali Rezaian looks at a picture of his brother, Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian, after a news conference at the National Press Club July 22, 2015 in Washington, DC. The news conference was to give an update on the case of Jason Rezaian, who is being held in Evin Prison in Iran since July 22, 2014. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sarah Hekmati(R), sister of US Marine Corps veteran Amir Hekmati, speaks about her brother May 19, 2014 during a vigil held for him in Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, DC. The vigil was held on the 1,000th day of Amir's imprisonment in Iran. Amir is an Iranian-American detained in Iran while visiting his grandmother. Falsely accused of being a spy, he was detained in August of 2011, held in solitary confinement for months and hidden by the walls of Irans Evin prison. He was sentenced to death in January of 2012, the first American to receive the death penalty in Iran in over 33 years. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)
Committee chairman Senator Bob Corker(L) , R-TN, and ranking member Senator Benjamin L. Cardin , D-MD, shake hands before a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill April 14, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee met to debate and vote on S.615, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 23: Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., takes his seat for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Iran Nuclear Agreement on Thursday, July 23, 2015. Secretary of State John Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testified. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
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NUCLEAR DEAL

Iran's armed forces chief, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, said the incident should demonstrate Iranian strength to "troublemakers" in the U.S. Congress, which has sought to put pressure on Iran after the nuclear deal.

And at a presidential campaign rally in the United States, Republican front runner Donald Trump, who accuses President Barack Obama of being weak on foreign policy, described the detention of the salors as "an indication of where the hell we're going."

A senior U.S. defense official said the circumstances surrounding the incident were still not entirely clear.

"We haven't been able to fully debrief the sailors," the official said, adding the U.S. military hoped to do so within hours. The sailors were headed to a U.S. military facility in Qatar.

"They're going through what always happens in these cases, they'll get a medical evaluation, and there will be a debriefing."

Attributing the boats' incursion into Iranian waters to a navigation error marked a de-escalation in rhetoric. Earlier, the Guards had said the boats were "snooping" in Iranian territory and Zarif had demanded an apology from Washington.

The IRGC, the Islamic Republic's praetorian guard, is highly suspicious of U.S. military activity near Iran's borders and many senior officers suspect Washington of pursuing regime change in Tehran.

The Guards operate land and naval units separate to the regular armed forces and stage frequent war games in the Gulf, which separates Iran from its regional rival Saudi Arabia and a U.S. naval base in Bahrain.

Last month, the U.S. Navy said an IRGC vessel fired unguided rockets near the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in the Strait of Hormuz, a critical shipping route for crude oil that connects the Gulf to the Indian Ocean. Iran denied the vessel had done so.

In April 2015, the Guards seized a container ship belonging to Maersk, one of the world's major shipping lines, in the Gulf because of a legal dispute between the company and Iran. The ship and its 24 crew members were released after 10 days.

The Guards have also seized British servicemen on two occasions, in 2004 and 2007, and a civilian British yacht crew in 2009. On each occasion the sailors were released unharmed after several days.

Iran said the British sailors were released when their government apologized to Iran, but London denied that it had offered any apology.

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