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Five Britons detained after yacht strays into Iranian waters

Video by Nicholas RUSHWORTH

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2009-12-01

Five British citizens have been detained in Iran after their yacht may have strayed into Iranian waters, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Monday.

AFP - Five British sailors are being detained in Iran after Tehran's navy seized their yacht when it apparently strayed into Iranian waters, deepening tensions Tuesday between the two nations.

The five were sailing to the start of a race in Dubai when their yacht was stopped on November 25 in the Gulf, Britain's Foreign Office said.

"The yacht was on its way from Bahrain to Dubai and may have strayed inadvertently into Iranian waters," the Foreign Office said.

"The five crew members are still in Iran. All are understood to be safe and well and their families have been informed," it said in a statement.

The seizure echoed memories of the capture of 15 British sailors by Iran in 2007. They were released after around two weeks, but only after a tense diplomatic standoff between London and Tehran.

Relations between Tehran and the West have not improved since then -- and chilled further after the Islamic republic announced Sunday that it plans to build another 10 uranium enrichment plants.

The yacht may have been drifted into Iranian waters after breaking its propeller en route to the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race which started last Thursday, British media reports said.

The crew on "The Kingdom of Bahrain" were Oliver Smith, Oliver Young, Sam Usher, Luke Porter and David Bloomer, according to informed sources in London.

Charles Porter said he had spoken to his 21-year-old son Luke on a mobile phone since the incident and he appeared to be in good spirits.

"From what we understand there was an oil field on their charts - which is a restricted area - so they chose to go one side of it," Porter said, adding the yacht may therefore have strayed too close to an Iranian island.

"He's a strong character but obviously we are very worried about him," he was quoted by the Daily Mail saying.

His mother, Beverley, said: "Apparently they are fine and are being well-looked after but are most of all frustrated. They didn't know they had strayed over this imaginary line."

The 60-foot Volvo racing yacht is owned by Sail Bahrain and backed by Team Pindar, a British racing team, which Monday confirmed the incident.

The Foreign Office said it had had some "limited indirect contact" with the five but could not say where they were being held or if they were in prison.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said British officials immediately contacted the Iranian authorities in London and in Tehran both to seek clarification and to try and 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," he said.

"I hope this issue will soon be resolved. We will remain in close touch with the Iranian authorities, as well as the families."

Miliband is also trying to set up a phone call with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, the Foreign Office said.

In the 2007 incident, eight sailors and seven marines were captured on March 23. Britain insisted they were in Iraqi territorial waters, while Tehran said they were in Iranian waters.

Britain pursued quiet diplomacy for the first few days, but after then foreign minister Margaret Beckett hit a dead end in talks with Mottaki, London's patience snapped.

During the 13 days they were held, the 14 men and one woman were not mistreated but were paraded on Iranian television, sparking anger from Britain and other Western governments.

That standoff damaged already fragile ties between Tehran and the West frayed by Iran's controversial nuclear programme, and had sent jitters through world oil and financial markets.

Previous incidents involving foreigners being seized by Iranian authorities include in November 2005 when Frenchman Stephane Lherbier and German Donald Klein were arrested for entering Iranian territorial waters in a fishing boat, and were each sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The two men said they had been misled by Emirati maps showing the waters as belonging to the UAE. Both were freed after serving 14 months.

And in March 2006, two Swedish nationals, Stefan Johanssen and Jari Hjortmar, were arrested for taking pictures of military installations on Iran's southern island of Qeshm and sentenced to two years in prison. They were released after a year behind bars.

Date created : 2009-11-30