Iran detains 5 British sailors

Tehran warned on Tuesday that it will take strong action against five detained British sailors if it is proven they had "bad intentions" when their racing yacht entered Iran's Persian Gulf waters and was seized. (Dec. 1)
By Karla Adam
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, December 1, 2009

LONDON -- Iranian authorities seized five British sailors after their racing yacht may have strayed into Iranian territorial waters, British authorities said Monday.

The group was sailing a 60-foot Volvo racing yacht from Bahrain to Dubai last Wednesday when they were "stopped by Iranian naval vessels," the British Foreign Office said in a statement. "The yacht was on its way from Bahrain to Dubai and may have strayed inadvertently into Iranian waters. The five crew members are still in Iran."

Last month, Iran accused three American hikers who were taken into custody in July while trekking on the Iran-Iraq border of espionage. Their families have denied the allegations.

The seizure of the sailors comes against a backdrop of difficult diplomatic relations between U.S. and European leaders and the Iranians, intensified by a long-standing dispute over Iran's nuclear program. On Sunday, Iran announced plans to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants. The Iranians say their program is for energy and medical use, but the United States and the European nations are concerned that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon.

David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, said in a statement that the British government contacted Iranian authorities on Wednesday night to "both to seek clarification and to try and resolve the matter swiftly" and "remain in close touch." While the United States no longer maintains a mission in Iran, Britain has an embassy in Tehran.

The sailing team, Team Pindar, confirmed in a statement on Monday that five British crew members aboard the yacht "Kingdom of Bahrain" were en route from Bahrain to Dubai when they were captured on Nov. 25 -- the day before they were due to take part in the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race, a 360-nautical-mile race. The team said that "all are understood to be safe and well and their families have been informed."

In March 2007, diplomatic relations between Britain and Iran plummeted when a group of 15 British marines and sailors were captured at gunpoint by Iran after straying into disputed waters. The British navy personnel were released after 13 days, but not before being paraded on Iranian state television.

It was not clear why British officials decided to release details of the case on Monday.

"I hope this issue will soon be resolved," Miliband said in his statement.

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