Iran: five British sailors seized after straying into Iranian waters
Five British sailors are being held captive in Iran after they strayed into the country’s territorial waters on their way to an international yacht race.
Sam Usher, Olly Smith, Luke Porter and Oliver Young were aboard the Kingdom of Bahrain
David Bloomer, a Bahrain Radio presenter, was also on the yacht
The Kingdom of Bahrain was sailing from Bahrain to Dubai
The Britons were part of the nine-strong crew of the Kingdom of Bahrain, a racing yacht, which was apprehended by the Iranian navy on Wednesday.
It is thought the boat, which carried a satellite tracker, may have drifted into Iranian waters after its propeller was damaged.
The newly refitted vessel was making its way from Bahrain to Dubai for a 350-mile race to Muscat, which began on Thursday.
When the yacht failed to arrive, expatriate yachting enthusiasts assumed that it had turned back because of technical problems but the Foreign Office disclosed last night that the crew had been taken captive by an Iranian patrol vessel on Wednesday.
It is understood that they were taken to Iran where they were said to be safe and well. Their families have been kept informed.
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said that British diplomats had been in close touch with Iranian officials and hoped to resolve the matter “swiftly”.
The incident has echoes of the capture in 2007 of 15 Royal Navy sailors and Marines who were seized during a routine inspection of a merchant ship. The incident lead to a prolonged diplomatic stand-off.
Iran claimed that the British sailors were in its territorial waters but the MoD said they were in Iraqi waters.
The names of the captured sailors have not been confirmed, but sources said those on board were Sam Usher, Olly Smith, Luke Porter, Oliver Young and David Bloomer, a Bahrain Radio presenter who was planning to give regular updates through the race.
The official team website named the skipper as Nick Crabtree, a New Zealand-born businessman, who was not thought to be on the boat at the time of the incident. He was quoted shortly before the vessel’s capture as saying: “We are looking forward to flying the flag for Bahrain throughout the Gulf.
“Depending on the conditions, the race should take about two days, so we’ll be working a watch system to get the most out of the guys and the boat. If the winds are strong, we should do well, in the first of what we hope will be many events in the region.”
Keith Mutch, the general manager of the Dubai offshore sailing club which oversees the race, said he received a call in the middle of the night to say the yacht had lost a propeller, and he was asked to find a replacement.
The call had come from the boat’s logistic base in Bahrain rather than the boat itself, but he had no reason to doubt the call and had found a new propeller. “It’s sitting on my desk now,” he said. “I never heard back from them and they never arrived. I presumed they went back to Bahrain.”
There were concerns that the crew would be accused of spying by the Iranian authorities who have long suspected Britain of trying to undermine their regime.
Mr Miliband said: “Officials immediately contacted the Iranian authorities in London and Tehran, both to seek clarification and to try to resolve the matter swiftly.” But Foreign Office sources said dealing with the Iranian authorities was complicated by the Eid festival weekend.
A source said: “We will remain in close touch with the Iranian authorities, as well as the families.”