24 March 2007

Iran seizes 15 British sailors in Persian Gulf

Iranian naval vessels seized 15 British sailors and marines Friday in Iraqi waters, the UK's Ministry of Defense said. The British personnel from the frigate HMS Cornwall were "engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters," and had completed their inspection of a merchant ship when they were accosted by Iranian vessels, the ministry said in a statement. Cmdr. Kevin Aandahl of the US Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain identified the vessels as those of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards navy, a radical force that operates independently from the regular Iranian Navy. Aandahl said that no shots were fired during incident and that the British sailors appeared unhurt.
Now from BBC:
A spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, Hamid Reza Asefi, said the three vessels had entered Iranian waters on Monday morning.

An Iranian military spokesman indicated the detained crew could be freed quickly if an inquiry shows there had been no malicious intent.
Of course. And what about the official British response?
A spokesman at the UK defence ministry said British forces in Iraq were using boats to train the Iraqi river patrol service, and the craft may have strayed across the maritime border by mistake. "The waterway runs over a mile wide. The border runs pretty much down the middle of it," he said.
Anyway, it seems that the 15 guys may be in for a fairly long stretch.
Our Tehran correspondent says a rapid solution to the incident may no longer be possible, because the issue has moved into the political arena.
Surely, when the defense ministry is already handing over all the cards to the Iranians. Just as a reminder:
In June 2004, six British marines and two sailors were seized by Iran in the Shatt al-Arab between Iran and Iraq. They were presented blindfolded on Iranian television and admitted entering Iranian waters illegally. They were released unharmed after three days
Now, of course, everything depends on how much of a production the Iranians will want to make of the case. Let's hope the sailors will be back as soon as possible.