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Military ends rescue search for Navy SEALs lost in maritime raid on ship with Iranian weapons

WASHINGTON (AP) — The 10-day search to rescue two Navy SEALs lost in the Arabian Sea during a mission to board a ship and confiscate Iranian-made weapons has been ended and the sailors are now considered deceased, the U.S. military said Sunday.

In a statement, U.S. Central Command said the search has now been changed to a recovery effort. The names of the SEALs have not been released as family notifications continue.

Ships and aircraft from the U.S., Japan and Spain continuously searched more than 21,000 square miles, the military said, with assistance from the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command, and the University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography

“We mourn the loss of our two Naval Special Warfare warriors, and we will forever honor their sacrifice and example," said Gen. Erik Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command. “Our prayers are with the SEALs’ families, friends, the U.S. Navy and the entire Special Operations community during this time.”

According to officials, the Jan. 11 raid targeted an unflagged ship carrying illicit Iranian-made weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen. Officials have said that as the team was boarding the ship, one of the SEALs went under in the heavy seas, and a teammate went in to try and save him.

The commandos had launched from the USS Lewis B. Puller, a mobile sea base, and they were backed by drones and helicopters. They loaded onto small special operations combat craft driven by naval special warfare crew to get to the boat.

In the raid, they seized an array of Iranian-made weaponry, including cruise and ballistic missile components such as propulsion and guidance devices and warheads, as well as air defense parts, Central Command said. It marked the latest seizure by the U.S. Navy and its allies of weapon shipments bound for the rebels, who have launched a series of attacks now threatening global trade in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden over Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The seized missile components included types likely used in those attacks.

The U.S. Navy ultimately sunk the ship carrying the weapons after deeming it unsafe, Central Command said. The ship’s 14 crew were detained.

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This story was first published on January 21, 2024. It was updated on January 22, 2024, to correct the name of the University of California, San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.