Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting has been playing images of the arrest and detention of the sailors, riverines transiting from Bahrain to Kuwait in riverine command boats, since shortly after their Jan. 12 arrest.
The new images sparked a fierce response from the Navy.
"As Secretary [of State John] Kerry has said, we are disgusted by the exploitation of our Sailors in Iranian propaganda," said Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, spokesman for Naval Forces Central Command, in a statement. "The detention of our personnel was outrageous and unacceptable."
"It's outrageous and unacceptable that our Sailors were held at gunpoint and detained. We are grateful diplomacy worked at the end of the day, but it would never have come to that had the Iranian maritime forces involved behaved professionally and responsibly."
The U.S. Navy has aided Iranian mariners in distress on seven occasions since 2012, Stephens said. The Navy's investigation into the incident was continuing, but it appears that the sailors' presence in the waters off of Iran's Farsi Island was accidental and that they were entitled to innocent passage under international law.
"If Iran believed the [riverine command boats] were not in innocent passage in the Iranian territorial sea, the Law of the Sea Convention and Customary International law provide that Iran could have simply directed the vessels to immediately depart Iranian waters," Stephens continued. "Iran could also have engaged diplomatically. It did not have the right under international law to detain and inspect the vessels or to detain the crews."
On Jan. 28, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the videos of sailors held at gunpoint were infuriating.
"I was very, very angry at it," Carter said. "I can tell you, Americans wouldn't have done that. I said that before that for me as secretary of defense — I think it's probably true of everybody in the department — to see our guys in that situation on Iranian TV, that's really not okay."
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.