The 10 American sailors were on an unfamiliar assignment and running behind schedule.

Setting off from Kuwait en route to Bahrain, the U.S. sailors had never navigated across the Persian Gulf in small patrol boats, and they were unaccustomed to traveling such a long distance in vessels designed for shorter missions in coastal waters or rivers.

Their routine mission on Jan. 12 turned into a nightmare when they strayed into Iranian waters near Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) surrounded the two U.S. boats and made the crew members kneel in surrender with their hands on their head. Iran released a video of the humiliating scene and held the sailors for 16 hours, before a flurry of phone calls between top diplomats in Washington and Tehran secured their release.

The incident, which remains under military investigation, has raised troubling questions not only about the crew’s performance but also about the U.S. Navy’s operations and readiness in one of the world’s most strategic and volatile waterways — where American ships have sailed for decades.