US identifies two Navy SEALs lost in attack off Somalia coast

The Defense Department on Monday identified the two Navy SEALs who were lost at sea and died this month during a nighttime commando attack on a small ship carrying weapons components to Yemen.

Active and veteran SEALs said the men appeared to have sunk quickly before they could be rescued, and the circumstances of their deaths raised questions about the planning and execution of the raid. An official investigation is pending.

Special Operator 1st Class Christopher J. Chambers, 37, and Special Operator 2nd Class Nathan Gage Ingram, 27, were lost Jan. 11 when SEALs in two stealthy combat speedboats, shadowed by helicopters and drones, boarded the dhow, a type small wooden cargo ship, in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Somalia.

As the two men attempted to climb a boarding ladder in rough seas, one fell into the ocean and the other jumped into the water to try to rescue them, according to defense officials briefed on the incident. Both SEALs were quickly lost in the waves.

A joint search operation by the naval forces of the United States, Spain and Japan spent more than a week searching more than 21,000 square miles of ocean for the missing SEALs. The Ministry of Defense announced on Sunday that the men were presumed dead.

They were assigned to SEAL Team 3, based in Coronado, California.

“Our condolences go out to Chris and Gage’s families, friends and teammates during this incredibly challenging time,” Capt. Blake L. Chaney, commander of Naval Special Warfare Group 1, said in a statement Monday. “They were exceptional warriors, valued teammates and dear friends to many. in the naval special warfare community.”

The boarding mission resulted in the seizure of Iranian-made ballistic missile and cruise missile components that the Defense Department said were destined for Houthi militants in Yemen. According to a statement from the Pentagon’s Central Command, 14 crew members of the dhow were taken aboard a Navy ship and the dhow was sunk.

It was the first time US forces have seized Iranian weapons sent to Houthi militants since they began attacking commercial shipping in the Red Sea in November.

Special Operator Ingram, originally from Texas, became a SEAL in 2021 and was on his first deployment, according to Navy records. Special Operator Chambers, from Maryland, has deployed several times since becoming a SEAL in 2013 to combat Islamic State militants.

Their families could not be reached for comment.

In a message from a SEAL officer to active-duty SEALs the day after the two men went missing, obtained by the New York Times, he said the junior SEAL slipped off the ladder and his more experienced platoon mate went in after him. The message said a third SEAL also fell during boarding and hit the SEAL’s speedboat before entering the water. That SEAL was quickly rescued, but the other two were lost.

The details of the crash have confused many current and former SEALs, says Eric Deming, a retired SEAL senior chief who flew similar missions.

The Navy used destroyers several times to intercept ships carrying weapons to Yemen in recent years without incident. Why, Mr. Deming asked, did the SEAL task force commander choose to board a slow-moving dhow in dangerous seas at night rather than wait for better conditions?

It is standard practice for SEALs to carry flotation devices and locators on boarding missions, he said. If those safeguards were followed, and the Navy’s speedboats and helicopters were in close proximity, Mr. Deming asked, how could the two SEALs have been lost?

“For many of us, this doesn’t make sense,” he said. “Something else must have gone wrong.”

Mr. Deming, as well as several active-duty SEALs who shared their views on the raid but did not want to be quoted directly, suggested that the two men may have been carrying so much equipment that they sank quickly despite wearing flotation devices .

The SEALs said standard operating procedures required Navy speedboats to rescue SEALs in the water; they wondered why one SEAL would jump off the boarding ladder after another.

The Navy’s Special Warfare Division, which includes the SEALs, declined to comment, saying the incident was still under investigation.

“The specifics of what happened will be thoroughly investigated,” the spokesman said. “Until then, it would be inappropriate to speculate about the details of the incident, as well as make assumptions about what led to the disappearance of our sailors.”

Eric Schmitt contributed to the reporting. Susan Beachy contributed to the research.

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