[QODLink]
Middle East
Iran seizes British sailors
UK demands servicemen's immediate return but Tehran defends detentions.
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2007 09:51 GMT
British and US vessels often operate in the disputed mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway [File: EPA]
Fifteen British Royal Navy sailors have been seized by Iranian navy vessels in the waterway between Iraq and Iran.

In a statement later during on Friday, Tehran defended its actions and said the British sailors had entered Iranian territorial waters illegally, describing it as an "open incursion".
"This is not the first time that British military personnel during the occupation of Iraq have entered illegally into Iran's territorial waters," Iranian state TV quoted an official as saying.
 
Britain's ministry of defence summoned Iran's ambassador in London to seek clarifications.
The meeting between Sir Peter Ricketts, a senior aide to Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, and Rasoul Movahedian, the Iranian envoy, was described by a department spokesman as "brisk but cordial".
 
Shortly afterwards, Beckett demanded that Tehran fully explain the detention, saying that Movahedian "was left in no doubt that we want them back".
 
British officials declined to confirm whether Movahedian had offered any assurances that the personnel would be released.
 
'Routine boarding'
 
Earlier, the MoD said in a statement: "At approximately 10:30 Iraqi time this morning, 15 British naval personnel, engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters ... were seized by Iranian naval vessels.
 
"The British government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment."
 
The Britons were in two inflatable boats from the frigate HMS Cornwall during a "routine smuggling investigation" when they were seized, the US defence department said.
 
No US military personnel were detained.
 
The abduction of the British servicemen came as the UN Security Council prepared to vote on new sanctions aimed at forcing Tehran to curb its nuclear programme.
 
Past incident
 
In June 2004, six British marines and two navy sailors were detained for three days in Iran after a routine operation. They were paraded blindfold on television and forced to apologise for their "mistake".
 
On that occasion Iran insisted that the boats - which it has not yet returned - were intercepted only after they entered Iranian waters on the Shatt al-Arab that divides Iraq from Iran.
 
On Friday, an MoD spokesman underlined that the British navy was boarding merchant ships in Iraqi waters in support of UN Security Council resolution 1723.
The spokesman said: "Normally what would happen is that we have the navy ships monitoring vessels going in and out of the area, so we would call them up on the radio and go through a simple list of checks and if there's anything that's not right, they send out two boats of naval personnel to board it.
 
"They check the cargo and see if the boat needs any assistance."
 
Fifth Fleet's account
 
According to a statement from the US Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and operates jointly with the British forces off the coast of Iraq, the British sailors had just finished inspecting the merchant ship "when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters".

The HMS Cornwall is one of the many British
and US warships patrolling Iraqi waters [EPA]
Commander Kevin Aandahl 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 force that operates separately from the country's regular navy.
 
Lieutenant-Commander Charlie Brown, also of the Fifth Fleet, said six Revolutionary Guards patrol boats intercepted the two British vessels.
 
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.
 
Disputed waters
 
The seizure of the British vessels, a pair of rigid inflatable boats known as RIBs, took place in long-disputed waters just outside of the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, Aandahl said.
 
A 1975 treaty gave the waters to Iraq and US 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," he 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."
 
Aandahl said the US-led task force has touchier relations with the Revolutionary Guard, who often ignore normal maritime operating traditions, than with the regular Iranian navy.
Source:
Agencies
Topics in this article
Country
City
Organisation
Featured on Al Jazeera
Muslim volunteers face questioning and threat of arrest, while aid has been disrupted or blocked, charities say.
Six months on, outrage and sorrow over the mass schoolgirl abduction has disappeared - except for families in Nigeria.
ISIL combatants seeking an 'exit strategy' from Mideast conflict need positive reinforcement back home, analysts say.
European nation hit by a wave of Islamophobia as many young fighters join ISIL in Syria and Iraq.
Featured
Lack of child protection laws means abandoned and orphaned kids rely heavily on the care of strangers.
At least 25 tax collectors have been killed since 2012 in Mogadishu, a city awash in weapons and abject poverty.
Since she was 16-years-old, Scottish Nationalist Party's Sturgeon has strove for independence from the UK.
Armed group's ransom success with German hostages marks a re-emergence, as authorities investigate ISIL links.
Western nations are moving into the resource-rich country after decades of disinterest, challenging China's interests.