WASHINGTON -- A U.S. Navy destroyer has rescued an Iranian fishing boat that had been commandeered by suspected pirates just days after Tehran warned Washington 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 Navy said Friday. The Kidd was sailing in the Arabian Sea, after leaving the Persian Gulf.
According to the Navy, a search and seizure team was taken by helicopter from the Kidd to the Al Molai on Thursday and met no resistance from the pirates, who surrendered quickly. The U.S. team gave the Iranian crew food, water and medical care.
The Navy detained 15 suspected Somali pirates who had been holding the 13-member crew hostage and were using the boat as a "mother ship" for pirating operations in the Persian Gulf.
Amid escalating tensions with Tehran, the Obama administration reveled in delivering the news.
"This is an incredible story," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, explaining that the same American ships the Islamic republic protested for recently traveling through the Strait of Hormuz were responsible for the Iranian vessel's recovery.
The episode occurred after a week of hostile rhetoric from Iranian leaders, including a statement by Iran's Army chief that American vessels are no longer welcome in the Gulf. Iran also warned it could block the Strait of Hormuz, which carries to market much of the oil pumped in the Middle East.
The Iranian threats, brushed aside by the administration, were in response to economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear enrichment program.