01 iran sailors framegrab
Navy to investigate treatment of U.S. sailors by Iran
02:33 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps naval forces receive medals

They detained 10 U.S. sailors who accidentally strayed into Iranian waters

Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei praises the generals for being "brave"

CNN  — 

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Sunday awarded Fath medals to five commanders of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps naval forces for the detention of 10 American sailors who trespassed into Iranian waters, according the official state news agency Press TV.

Two U.S. Navy crafts carrying 10 sailors reached 3 miles into the waters surrounding Iran’s Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf on January 12 because of mechanical problems.

The boats had drifted off course, but one was also suffering engine trouble, making it impossible for the Americans to back off rapidly and return to international waters when armed Iranian naval boats approached them.

Iran said the Republican Guards detained the U.S. service members and questioned them about whether they were on an intelligence mission.

But an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps spokesman said afterward that the boats strayed into Iranian waters by accident. The sailors were later released to the American naval fleet in the Persian Gulf.

“The evidence suggests that they unintentionally entered the Iranian waters because of the failure of their navigational system,” spokesman Ramazan Sharif said.

The Fath (Victory) medal is among the highest honors that Iran’s supreme leader can bestow on a military leader. It is rarely awarded.

Khamenei praised the generals as “brave” and commended them for bringing the Americans ashore.

The capture of the U.S. sailors “was in fact an act of God, who brought the Americans into our waters so they would be arrested with their hands on their heads through your timely measure,” Khamenei said, according to Press TV.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Monday that if the reports of the medals are true, “it’s not only unwarranted, it’s unconscionable.”

CNN’s Azadeh Ansari and Jennifer Rizzo contributed to this report.