A U.S. Navy destroyer has rescued an Iranian fishing boat that had been commandeered by suspected pirates just days after Tehran warned the U.S. to keep its warships out of the Persian Gulf.
American forces flying off the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd responded to a distress call from the Iranian vessel, the Al Molai, which had been held captive for more than 40 days, the U.S. Navy said Friday. The Kidd was sailing in the Arabian Sea, after leaving the Persian Gulf, when it came to the sailors' aid.
A U.S. Navy team boarded the ship Thursday and detained 15 suspected Somali pirates. They had been holding the 13-member Iranian crew hostage and were using the boat as a "mother ship" for pirating operations in the Persian Gulf.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta commented on the rescue in an interview scheduled to air Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"It's what we do. And it's what we do in that part of the world. We get a distress call, as we did in this case, even though it came from an Iranian ship. When the pirates went after them, we respond to those calls," Panetta said. "We did what we have to do in that situation. I think it just sends an important message to the world that the United States is going to abide by international rules and international order, and that's exactly what we did here."
In the same interview, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the suspected pirates surrendered without incident.
"I think in the face of the overwhelming combat power that was presented the pirates made the right decision," he said.
Amid escalating tensions with Tehran, the Obama administration reveled in delivering the news.
"This is an incredible story. This is a great story," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, explaining that the very same American ships the Islamic republic protested for recently traveling through the Strait of Hormuz were responsible for the Iranian vessel's recovery.
"They were obviously very grateful to be rescued from these pirates," Nuland said.
Iran welcomes U.S. rescue of Iranian fishermen
A spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, Ramin Mehmanparast, had positive words about the rescue when he spoke Saturday to the Arabic news network Al-Alam.
"Rescuing Iranian sailors by the U.S. was a humanitarian act and we welcome such acts," he said. "The Iranian Navy also engages in such rescue operations. It is the responsibility of all nations to rescue nationals from other countries from pirates."