Five Britons are being detained in Iran after Tehran’s navy seized their yacht, which may have strayed into Iranian waters in the Gulf.
In the November 25 incident — which comes amid a spike in long-tense ties between Iran and the West — the racing yacht crewed by five Britons “was stopped by Iranian naval vessels,” the Foreign Office said.
“The yacht was on its way from Bahrain to Dubai and may have strayed inadvertently into Iranian waters,” it said, adding that the yacht was owned by Sail Bahrain.
The boat involved is called “The Kingdom of Bahrain”, according to informed sources in London.
The Foreign Office declined to identify the crew members, although initial press reports cited names from a website of sailing team Team Pindar, which appeared to have been last updated the day before the yacht was seized.
“The five crew members are still in Iran. All are understood to be safe and well and their families have been informed,” the FCO statement said.
The seizure — which recalls the capture of 15 British sailors by Iran in 2007 — came as the yacht was sailing to Dubai ahead of the start of the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race, it is understood.
The Foreign Office said it had had some “limited indirect contact” with the group but could not say where they were being held or if they were in prison. It is not clear whether they are professional sailors.
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-áthis issue will soon be resolved.-áWe will remain in close touch with the Iranian authorities, as well as the families,” he added.
Miliband is also trying to set up a phone call with his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, the Foreign Office said.
In March 2007 a group of 15 British sailors were seized by Iran while in disputed waters. 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.
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.
Iran had insisted the key to resolving the crisis was an admission from Britain that the sailors and marines violated its territorial waters.
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. 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. The two men said they had been misled by Emirati maps showing the waters as belonging to the UAE.