Update on the British Sailors Seized by Iran (Updated)

The British say that they have satellite evidence that the sailors seized by Iran last week were in Iraqi waters:

Satellite data proves 15 navy personnel being held in Iran were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when they were seized, UK defence officials say.

Vice Admiral Charles Style said the sailors had been “ambushed” in the Gulf after searching a vessel and their detention was “unjustified and wrong”.

Tony Blair said it was time to “ratchet up” pressure on Iran, with whom the UK has now suspended bilateral contacts.

Hat tip: Steven Taylor

So do the Iranians (I don’t have a link to support this but I’ve heard it reported).

Reuters has noted that the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) is reporting that Faye Turney, the British servicewoman among the sailors being held by the Iranians, will be released:

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran will free a woman held among the 15 British sailors and marines it seized in the Gulf last week, the ISNA news agency reported on Wednesday.

ISNA said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini had confirmed reports the woman would be released either later on Wednesday or on Thursday.

A British diplomat in Tehran said the embassy had not heard anything officially about this from the Iranian side.

Turkey seems to be offering its services as mediary:

Turkish diplomats may be allowed to visit the 15 British military personnel detained in Iran, CNN Turk television quoted Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan as saying after talks with Iran’s foreign minister.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett discussed the plight of the 15 personnel in talks with Erdogan in Ankara. Turkey, which has cordial ties with neighbouring Iran, has said it will do all it can to help Britain, a NATO ally.

“It is possible that Turkish diplomats will see the 15 British sailors,” Erdogan said after talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Saudi Arabia, where they are attending a meeting of the Arab League.

Erdogan did not say when the meeting might take place.

Erdogan is quoted as saying, “You can expect a positive development at any moment.”


Sky News is reporting that the British sailors will be paraded on television (as they were in the last similar incident in 2004):

The British sailors and marines being held in Iran are to be paraded on television – but the female sailor who was captured could be released “today or tomorrow.”

Turkish TV has quoted the Iranian foreign minister as saying Faye Turney could be freed within hours.

And an Arabic Iranian broadcaster says it will show footage of the captives on television.

I found this interesting, too:

Admiral Style said the co-ordinates had been confirmed publicly by the Iraqi foreign ministry, and that the Iranian government had provided Britain with two different positions for the incident – the first placing it within Iraqi waters.

“We pointed this out to them on Sunday in diplomatic contacts,” he said.

“After we did this they then provided a second set of co-ordinates that places the incident in Iranian waters, over two nautical miles from the position given by HMS Cornwall and confirmed by the merchant vessel.

“It is hard to understand a legitimate reason for this change of co-ordinates.

“In any case we unambiguously contest both the positions provided by the Iranians,” he said.

Update 2

The Associated Press reports

Vice Adm. Charles Style told reporters that the Iranians had provided a position on Sunday – a location that he said was in Iraqi waters. By Tuesday, Iranian officials had given a revised position 2 miles east, placing the British inside Iranian waters – a claim he said was not verified by global positioning system coordinates.

“It is hard to understand a legitimate reason for this change of coordinates,” Style said.

Style gave the satellite coordinates of the British crew as 29 degrees 50.36 minutes north latitude and 048 degrees 43.08 minutes east longitude, and said it had been confirmed by an Indian-flagged merchant ship boarded by the sailors and marines.

Mottaki [ed. Iranian Foreign Minister] denied this, saying, “That’s not true. It happened in Iranian territorial waters.”

As I read it this means that the British account of things has been verified by the Iraqi authorities, Iraqi citizens, and the captain of an Indian-flagged merchant ship.  Has any source other than the Iranians themselves confirmed the Iranian story?

7 comments… add one
  • Dave, there are Iraqi fishers who say it was Iranian waters and the original report by the local Iraqi military commander said Iraqi waters.

    Note too that the GPS on the pics we Brits handed out today differ by over 100 yards from the co-ordinates publicly announced.

    I’m beginning to think no-one knows exactly where the incident took place. Andy in your comments the other day was spot on.

    Regards, C

  • Not that I’ve seen Dave.

    One question that has yet to be asked – Why was the crew of the Indian Merchant Ship not detained? Were they not “violating” Iranian TTW as well?

    I think the Iranian’s have grossly miscalculated with this incident and they will have a difficult time extricating themselves while saving face and not materially hurting their objectives.

  • Oh and the “Indian” merchant has an Iranian crew and an Iranian home port, according to the British media reports of the incident.

    Regards, C

  • I don’t think it was that much of a miscalculation. My own view is that this act was purely for internal consumption and they’ll be able to portray this as defense of Iranian territory come what may.

  • My apologies, that sentence above should say “the original report by the local Iraqi military commander said IRANIAN waters.” Here’s how the Telegraph put it:

    “The border between Iran and Iraq runs along the waterway and the Iranians say that British had crossed onto their side, a claim supported by Brigadier General Hakim Jassim, the Iraqi military commander of the country’s territorial waters.

    “We were informed by Iraqi fishermen after they had returned from sea that there were British gunboats in an area that is out of Iraqi control,” he said.” Shortly thereafter, the Iraqi central govt. contradicted Brig. gen Jassim and that’s all we’ve heard of it since.

    Regards, C

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