US Navy rescues Iranians held hostage by pirates

US Navy sailors board the Al-Molai The Iranian vessel is believed to have been boarded by pirates several weeks ago

The US Navy has rescued 13 Iranian fishermen being held by pirates in the Arabian Sea, the Pentagon says.

The 13 were rescued on Thursday after a distress call was received from an Iranian fishing vessel which had been boarded by pirates over a month ago.

Fifteen suspected pirates were detained and are being held by the US Navy.

The rescue comes days after Iranian officials warned the US to keep the carrier group involved in the operation out of the Gulf.

The Iranians had been kept in harsh conditions and are thought to have been forced to assist the pirates in their operations, according to the Pentagon.

'Kindness and respect'

The freed hostages are now on their way back home, the US Navy said.

The hostages "had been through a lot", said Navy Criminal Investigative Service agent Josh Schminky.

"We went out of our way to treat the fishing crew with kindness and respect," he said.

The captain of the Al Molai, a fishing dhow, "expressed his sincere gratitude that we came to assist them. He was afraid that without our help, they could have been there for months," he added.

The rescue was carried out by forces assigned to the John C Stennis aircraft carrier group, which recently left the Gulf to assist US military operations in Afghanistan.

Earlier this week Iranian officials had warned the carrier not to the return to the region.

Tensions between Iran and the US have risen recently because of Western concerns over Iran's nuclear programme.

Faced with the prospect of fresh sanctions over the programme, Iran threatened to block the transport of oil through the Strait of Hormuz.

It has also recently concluded a 10-day naval exercise near the Strait, test-firing several missiles.

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