A U.S. Navy team detained 15 suspected Somali pirates after boarding the vessel and rescuing a 13-member Iranian crew, The Associated Press reported. The ship was later returned to Iranian control.
The rescue comes at a time of escalated tension between Iran and the United States. Officials from both countries have been lobbing rhetorical volleys since Iran threatened last week to close the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil passageway in the Persian Gulf through which nearly 20 percent of the world’s oil travels.
Iran's threat came in response to economic sanctions from the United States and Europe.
"I think it just sends an important message to the world that the United States is going to abide by international rules and international order, and that's exactly what we did here," Panetta said.
Panetta and Dempsey appeared together on the television show Thursday. The full interview will air on CBS Sunday.
Dempsey told the network that the pirates surrendered in the face of U.S. combat power. No injuries were reported.
"They responded as we do to calls of distress. We protect freedom of the seas, freedom of navigation and we fundamentally re-captured the ship and took the pirates into custody and returned the ship to Iranian control," Dempsey said.
When asked whether he had received a "thank you" from the Iranians, Panetta said, "not yet, not yet."
"I think it makes very clear to them that despite how much they often try to provoke us, that the United States in this kind of situation is going to respond, as we should, in a very humanitarian, responsible way," Panetta added.
— Jeremy Herb contributed to this report.