Guardian: Iran confirms detention of five British yachtsmen in Persian Gulf
Iran confirms detention of five British yachtsmen in Persian Gulf
Racing yacht thought to have strayed into Iranian waters
- guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 1 December 2009 08.20 GMT
Iran today confirmed that its navy has detained five British yachtsmen in the Persian Gulf, as diplomatic efforts continued to secure their releases.
The men were detained six days ago when their racing yacht was intercepted by Iran's navy while on its way from Bahrain to an event in Dubai but the incident was kept secret as the Foreign Office sought to establish what had happened and tried to avoid raising the political temperature.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards confirmed their naval forces had detained the five Britons in the Gulf, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported, according to Reuters.
It is thought the yacht, the Kingdom of Bahrain, may have strayed inadvertently into Iranian waters, the Foreign Office said. The vessel was being delivered by the crew to the annual Dubai to Muscat race, which was due to begin the following day. All the Britons were said to be safe and well and their families have been informed.
The crew members have been named as Oliver Smith, 31, Oliver Young, 21, Sam Usher, Luke Porter, 21 and David Bloomer. David Miliband, the foreign secretary, said: "Officials immediately contacted the Iranian authorities in London and in Tehran on the evening of 25 November, both to seek clarification and to try to resolve the matter swiftly.
"Our ambassador in Tehran has raised the issue with the Iranian foreign ministry and we have discussed the matter with the Iranian embassy in London. I hope this issue will soon be resolved. We will remain in close touch with the Iranian authorities, as well as the families."
Oliver Young's father told the thisisplymouth website, he was sure his son was "fine". David Young, a Plymouth businessman, said: "He's travelled a fair bit he's got quite a bit of experience under his belt. They'll be coping with it fine. We understand they are being well looked after.
"He's been doing this since he's 18. He's with a very good friend of his and two crew members. They've been out there on this project for a number of weeks now … We hope to see them very soon.
"It's just a worry that there are diplomatic stresses at the moment. They are under international pressure. We just hope they're not used as a bargaining chip."
The shadow foreign minister, David Lidington, called for the sailors to be released immediately.
He told the BBC: "I think it is completely unjustifiable and I believe Iran should release these people from captivity without delay.
"There was no justification for them being arrested in the first place."
Ed Balls, the children's secretary, said the cabinet would receive an update on the situation when it met later.
"Everything is being done to make sure that these guys are safe and they can come back soon," he told GMTV.
The Tory MP Ben Wallace, chairman of the British-Iranian All-Party Parliamentary Group, said Iran was trying "make a point."
He told the BBC: "A normal nation would stop a yacht, check it out, maybe take it back to shore and get rid of them. But this is five, six days into the incident. That is much more worrying, that is more deliberate."
Communication with Iran may have been made more difficult since the incident occurred over the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.
The race went ahead as planned. Sail Bahrain is the brainchild of Bahrain's King Hamad, who wants to develop sailing and other water sports in the Gulf region. The team has recently bought two 60-foot Volvo racing yachts, of which the Kingdom of Bahrain is one, to the kingdom from Southampton after setting up the project with Team Pindar racing.
Bloomer , a DJ and sports broadcaster, has worked for the Bahrain Radio and Television Corporation for 25 years. He was expected to give regular updates on the 360-nautical mile Dubai to Muscat race for which the yacht was headed.
Some reports last night suggested the boat had drifted into Iranian waters after it lost the use of its propeller which the crew was using because of light winds.
Louay Habib, press officer for the race organiser, the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club, said the yacht, which, when racing, would have had nine crew, ran into trouble about 60 miles off Dubai on its way to the start.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions over Iran's plans, announced on Sunday, to build 10 uranium enrichment plants. Iran's relations with Britain have been frosty since the country's disputed election earlier this year.
Iran is holding three young Americans who strayed across the border from northern Iraq in July. The US has appealed for their release, saying they were innocent hikers who accidentally crossed into Iran. Tehran has accused them of spying, a sign that they could be put on trial.
It is not the first time that Britons have been captured by the Iranian authorities while at sea. Iran took 15 British service personnel hostage on 23 March 2007 and held them for 13 days. The Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines, from the frigate HMS Cornwall, were taken at gunpoint by Iranian warships during a routine search of a cargo ship in the northern Persian Gulf.
Iran alleged that the frigate had strayed into Iranian territorial waters but the Ministry of Defence denied the allegation and said the ship was in Iraqi waters.
Footage of crew members was broadcast by Iranian TV during their kidnap ordeal. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinehjad, agreed to pardon and free them on 4 April 2007.
In June 2004, six Royal Marines and two Royal Navy sailors were held for three days. They were part of a Royal Navy team which had been training Iraqi security forces to conduct anti-smuggling operations in the Shatt al-Arab waterway and were arrested while on their way to Basra to deliver one of the patrol boats to the new Iraqi Riverine Patrol Service.
The Iranian authorities said the boats had entered Iranian territorial waters in the Shatt al-Arab waterway which divides Iran from Iraq. The Iran-Iraq border runs down the middle of the waterway.
Some of those captured were also paraded on television in March 2007.