Iran seizes British navy boats

Iran has seized three British naval patrol boats and detained eight sailors on Tuesday after they entered the Islamic republic’s territorial waters on the Iraqi border.

“This morning, three British boats with eight people on board entered Iranian territorial waters. The Iranian navy, in accordance with their duties, seized these boats and arrested the crew,” spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.

“They are currently being interrogated and an investigation is underway,” he added.

Official sources said the small patrol boats were armed with heavy machine-guns, and identified the detained Britons as “Royal Navy commandos”.

Iranian state television’s Arabic-language channel, Al-Alam, said Iranian forces had also seized GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) devices, assault rifles, pistols, cameras and detailed maps of the Iran-Iraq border area.

Britain has confirmed the military personnel were captured in three small boats in the Shatt al-Arab waterway between southern Iran and Iraq.

“We can confirm that eight Royal Navy personnel from the Royal Navy training team based in southern Iraq have been detained by the Iranian authorities while delivering a boat from Umm Qasr to Basra,” Britain’s Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

The statement said the boats were carrying only the sailors’ personal weapons.

Describing it as a “low-level incident”, a Royal Navy spokesman in London said the three small boats appeared to have “strayed into Iranian territory”.

The British forces have asked coastguard officials in southern Iraq to mediate with Iran over the seizure.

A source said the office of Iraqi General Ali Hammadi had made contact with the Iranian authorities and hoped the Britons would be released rapidly.

Contacts with Iranian troops along the Iraqi border area have generally been described by British sources as cordial.

The Shatt al-Arab border demarcation had been a constant source of dispute — and of conflict during the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq — under Saddam Hussein, until a deal was struck for the frontier to run at the mid-way point.

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