"MaritimeQuest joins with the United Kingdom in demanding the immediate release of the British Sailors and Marines captured by the Iranians. This provocative act of war against the United Kingdom should not be
tolerated, and will not go unnoticed."
Mar 23, 2007, 14:11 GMT
London - The British government Friday demanded the immediate and safe return of 15 Royal Navy sailors seized at gunpoint by Iranian warships in Iraqi territorial waters.'We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level,' the Ministry of De fence (MoD) said in a statement in London.
Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett had summoned the Iranian ambassador to the Foreign Office. The incident,involving the Royal Navy's Type 22 frigate HMS Cornwall, happened at around 10:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) Friday, following a 'routine inspection' of a merchant ship. 'The boarding party had completed a successful inspection of a merchant ship when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters,' the MoD said.
'The British Government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment,' it added.
Reports said the men were seized when they boarded a boat in the northern Gulf, off the coast of Iraq, which they suspected was smuggling cars. A BBC News 24 reporter on the ship, Ian Pannell, said that they had just boarded a dhow, an Arab sailing boat. 'While they were on board, a number of Iranian boats approached the waters in which they were operating - the Royal Navy are insistent that they were operating in Iraqi waters and not Iranian waters - and essentially captured the Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel at gunpoint,' he said.
Earlier Friday, a senior British Army officer alleged that insurgents in southern Iraq are being funded by Iran to stage attacks on British forces stationed in Basra.
Lieutenant-Colonel Justin Maciejewski conceded, however, that he had 'no smoking gun' to prove Iranian interference in Basra, where British troops come under regular mortar and rocket attack. But he said local community leaders informed him that Iranian agents were paying local men 500 dollars a month to carry out attacks and providing them with sophisticated modern weapons. Maciejewski, the commanding officer at the British base at Basra Palace, the British Army headquarters, said he had 'no reason to disbelieve the reports.'
'All the information we are getting from the locals in Basra is that the vast majority of the violence against us is inspired from outside of Iraq and the people here very much believe that that is Iran.'
© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur