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Britain Calls For Speedy End To Yacht Incident With Iran

The 'Kingdom of Bahrain' racing yacht on which five British men were detained by Iranian Revolutionary Guards on November 25.
(RFE/RL) -- Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband says five young British yachtsmen were clearly innocent of any ill intentions when their boat apparently strayed into Iranian waters and they were detained.

Miliband said the incident has "nothing to do" with politics or with the international dispute over Iran's nuclear program. He said he therefore hopes that the case can be quickly resolved at consular level by the two sides.

The five Britons were seized last week by Iran's Revolutionary Guards while on their way from Bahrain to Dubai for a yacht race. The Foreign Office in London says all five are safe and well, and their families have been informed of the situation.

Speaking to RFE/RL's Radio Farda, the chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Mike Gapes, took a grave view of the incident. He called the detention of the yachtsmen a "serious matter" that Parliament must consider "very seriously." He said he intends to raise the issue with Miliband on the floor of the House.

"These people are not military, these people are entirely civilian. I don't know where they were when they were arrested, if there was a problem with the engine of their vessel, which has been reported," Gapes said.

"But clearly they are not military personnel, they are people who have unfortunately been caught up in a bigger scheme by Iranian authorities to detain British people to put some kind of pressure or make some kind of political statement. They should be released immediately in my opinion."

Law Of The Sea

Fars news agency has quoted Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, as saying in Tehran that the case is one for the judiciary to decide, and that the sailors will be dealt with "seriously and firmly" if any ill intent is found. That means they could fall under suspicion of spying.

British maritime security expert Graeme Gibbon-Brooks tells RFE/RL that "any yacht in anyone's territorial waters usually proceeds under the law of innocent passage which is protected under the UN convention of the law of the sea. But when Iran signed that they put in a caveat that they could stop and detain anyone if they were concerned about security.

"The Iranians are very touchy about security and it might be because this yacht did not preregister before entering Iranian waters, if indeed [that was the case], then that's why they've been detained."

The incident echoes memories of the capture of 15 British Navy personnel by Iran in 2007. They were released after about two weeks, but only after a tense diplomatic standoff between London and Tehran.

RFE/RL's Radio Farda contributed to this report