Cypriot Navy special forces and US Navy SEALs in a joint rescue exercise in the port city of Limassol, Cyprus, on September 10, 2021.IAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU/Getty Images

  • Two Navy SEALs went missing off the coast of Somalia during a night mission on January 11.

  • CENTCOM called off search-and-rescue attempts on Sunday, following a 10-day “exhaustive search.”

  • It’s now conducting recovery operations, but experts say their bodies will likely never be found.

The bodies of two Navy SEALs lost at sea earlier this month will probably never be found, military experts said.

The US Central Command, or CENTCOM, announced on Sunday that search-and-rescue efforts to locate the two missing servicemen failed following 10 days of “exhaustive search” spanning 21,000 square miles.

The pair, whose names have not been made public, were lost overboard while on a mission to seize Iranian weaponry being delivered to Yemen, CENTCOM said in a statement released on January 16.

High waves in the Gulf of Aden knocked one of the SEALs into the water as they boarded a vessel on January 11, the Associated Press reported at the time, citing unnamed US officials.

The second SEAL then jumped in after his comrade, following SEAL’s protocol, per AP, and they both vanished.

CENTCOM declared them deceased on Sunday, but said that operations to recover their remains will continue.

However, according to experts, the chances of finding them are close to zero.

“Unless they were in shallow waters and currents washed them up on the beach, they’re not going to be found,” Richard Kouyoumdjian Inglis, a lieutenant commander in the Chilean Naval Reserve, told Business Insider.

“If they didn’t find them in ten days, it means they weren’t on the surface, where they would have been able to detect them via tracking systems,” Inglis said.

Joe Buccino, a former director of communications at CENTCOM, said at this point it is “likely” they will never be found.

“The search area is simply too large,” Buccino told BI.

Bradley Martin, a retired surface-warfare captain who served in the Navy for 30 years, said it will be “extremely difficult to find the bodies just based on the environmental conditions.”

Martin cited the equipment they had, which may have caused them to sink, as well as marine life that could have done something to them.

“I’d say the chances of the bodies being recovered are marginal,” he said.

Airborne and naval platforms from the US, Japan, and Spain took part in the “expansive” search-and-rescue operations, per CENTCOM.

They also had search assistance from the Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center, the US Coast Guard Atlantic Area Command, the University of San Diego-Scripts Institute of Oceanography, and the Office of Naval Research-Oceanographic Support, according to CENTCOM.

The incident will likely not change SEALs’ overseas operations

Dhow carrying Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen's Houthi in the Arabian SeaDhow carrying Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen's Houthi in the Arabian Sea

A photo of the dhow carrying Iranian-made missile components bound for Yemen, seen by the US Central Command on January 10, 2024.USCENTCOM

Despite what happened, Inglis does not believe the Navy will rethink its overseas operations, in part because SEALs have extensive training to survive in such circumstances.

“They operate in high-risk environments, and this type of thing happens,” he said.

Martin also said he doubts the incident will “change things very much.” However, he said it may “occasion a better assessment of risks in the future.”

Military analysts told BI last week, five days into the search, that the two Navy SEALs were likely dead, but that their world-class training gave them a better chance at survival than most.

After calling off the search on Sunday, General Michael Erik Kurilla, CENTCOM’s commander, said: “We mourn the loss of our two Naval Special Warfare warriors, and we will forever honor their sacrifice and example.”

He added: “Our prayers are with the SEALs’ families, friends, the US Navy, and the entire Special Operations community during this time.”

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