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15 British naval personnel have been seized by Iranian naval vessels today, 23 March 2007.
The incident took place at approximately 0910 Iraqi time.
The British Personnel were engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters in support of UNSCR 1723 and the government of Iraq.
Operating from HMS Cornwall, the UK boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters.
We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and on the instructions of the Foreign Secretary, the Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office.
The British Government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment.
The MOD is currently in the process of informing the next-of-kin of the 15 personnel and would strongly urge the privacy of all families involved to be respected at what will be an extremely difficult time.
Any speculation about what might happen or the way our people may be treated could be genuinely dangerous, and the MOD urges media to refrain from such speculation whilst the Government conducts its urgent discussions with the Iranian authorities.
The MOD has activated a helpline for concerned families. The number is 08457 800 900.
Britain says 15 Royal Navy sailors and marines have been detained by Iranian naval forces in Iraqi waters in the Persian Gulf.
The detained British navy personnel were in two inflatable boats from the HMS Cornwall, pictured here in the North Arabian Gulf this month. The detained British navy personnel were in two inflatable boats from the HMS Cornwall, pictured here in the North Arabian Gulf this month.
(British Royal Navy/Associated Press)
Royal Navy personnel were on routine patrols of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters Friday, the British Defence Ministry said.
The sailors had just completed a search of a merchant ship suspected of smuggling cars. The vessel was cleared to continue on its journey.
But as the British sailors were getting on to their own vessel, they were surrounded by Iranian naval vessels and seized at gunpoint.
The British sailors were taken into Iranian waters but it is unclear where they are being held.
The ministry has issued a demand to Iranian authorities for "the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment."
"[The British government] is adamant that its sailors were in Iraqi territorial waters, not in Iranian waters," the CBC's Adrienne Arsenault said.
The Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the foreign office in London.
Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet said the British crew members were intercepted by several larger patrol boats operated by Iranian sailors belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, a radical force that operates separately from the country's regular navy.
The Iranian boats normally carry bow-mounted machine guns, while the British boarding party carried only sidearms, Aandahl said. No shots were fired and there appeared to be no physical harm done to any personnel involved or their vessels, Aandahl said.
The seizure of the British vessels, a pair of rigid inflatable boats known as RIBs, took place in long-disputed waters just outside the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway that divides Iraq from Iran, Aandahl said. A 1975 treaty gave the waters to Iraq, and U.S. and British ships commonly operate there, but Aandahl said Iran disputes Iraq's jurisdiction over the waters.
"It's been in dispute for some time," Aandahl said. "We've been operating there for a couple of years and we know the lines very well. This was a compliant boarding, this happens routinely. What's out of the ordinary is the Iranian response."
Arsenault said it is expected that Iran will accuse the British sailors of being spies as they did during a similar incident in 2004, when eight British sailors were seized.
In that incident, however, it was accepted that they had veered into Iranian territorial waters.
They were presented blindfolded on Iranian television and admitted entering Iranian waters illegally.
The sailors were released unharmed after three days.
Well, well, this should be interesting! The Iranians haven't commented yet, but I imagine that they will deny the MoD's claim that the ship was in Iraqi waters at the time of the alleged seizure. It should be interesting to see what happens as the facts on this matter start coming out... will this be a repeat of the 1979 hostage crisis (complete with military intervention), or a much less serious situation like the Hainan Island incident? Time will tell!
[ Last edited by irishinuk at 2007-3-24 12:28 AM ]