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British yachtsmen released by Iran

The crew of the Kingdom of Bahrain

The crew of the Kingdom of Bahrain

A previous post noted the seizure of a group of British yachtsmen by Iran. The BBC is reporting:

Four British yachtsmen who were seized by Iran have returned to the UK following their release from custody.

They were sailing from Bahrain to Dubai to take part in a race when they drifted into Iranian waters.

At a press conference in Dubai on Thursday, their skipper Oliver Smith said they had strayed into Iran’s territory by “mistake”.

Mr Smith, 31, added the crew were blindfolded while at sea, apart from him as he was at the helm.

Along with Mr Smith, from Southampton, Luke Porter, 21, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, Oliver Young, 21, from Saltash, Cornwall, and Sam Usher, 26, from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, arrived at Heathrow Airport on Friday morning.

They had been held alongside Bahrain-based David Bloomer, who is believed to be in his 60s, on 25 November.

‘Worst thing’

Mr Smith told reporters their Volvo racing yacht had shed a propeller during the voyage.

“We had no intention of upsetting anyone. We were just trying to get here [Dubai] to start a yacht race,” he said.

He said they were not allowed to leave the room where they were being held on the Iranian mainland without being accompanied by a guard, but were taken to make checks on their yacht.

They were given the use of a chess board and darts, were occasionally allowed outside during the evenings and the guards left the door open as the group ate meals to let fresh air into their room.

Mr Bloomer added: “They did do their best to make us as comfortable as possible, but of course when they take your freedom away the worst thing was not knowing what was happening.”

Iran’s official IRNA news agency said the men had been released after an interrogation by authorities established their yacht had entered Iranian waters accidentally.

A statement by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said: “After carrying out an investigation and interrogation of the five British sailors, it became clear that their illegal entry was a mistake.

“After obtaining necessary guarantees, it was decided to release them.”

At a press conference outside the Foreign Office, the families expressed relief at their sons’ release.

The BBC’s Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne said the investigation had been “lightning-fast” by Iranian standards.

The five men were detained after the Revolutionary Guard stopped their Volvo 60 yacht – The Kingdom of Bahrain – in the Gulf on 25 November.

The Team Pindar-backed yacht was sailing from Bahrain to Dubai to take part in the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Race.

The race began on 26 November and ended two days later in the Omani capital’s Bandar Al-Rawdah marina.

The Kingdom of Bahrain yacht is owned by the Sail Bahrain project, which aims to promote the island as a yachting destination and was recently launched by Team Pindar.

Team Pindar is owned by G A Pindar & Son Ltd, a family owned print and publishing business based in Scarborough.

It is not the first time British sailors have been detained after being accused of straying into Iranian waters.

In March 2007 there was a prolonged stand-off between the UK and Iran after a 15-strong Royal Navy crew was detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

And in 2004, eight British servicemen were held in Iran after being seized in the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where they were training the Iraqi river patrol service.

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.