Iran seized 15 British naval personnel who were conducting “routine boarding operations” in Iraqi waters, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said.
“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 ministry said in an e-mailed statement. “We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level.”
The incident occurred in the Arabian Gulf at about 10:30 a.m. Iraq time today, the ministry said. It gave no details of the units and vessels involved. Britain is demanding the immediate return of the military personnel and vessels, and Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has summoned the Iranian ambassador in London, the ministry said.
It’s not the first time U.K. naval forces have clashed with Iran in the region. In June 2004, Iran held eight British servicemen for three days after capturing them in the Shatt al- Arab waterway that runs along the border between Iran and Iraq.
Iran, which also captured three British vessels in the 2004 incident, said the Britons were in Iranian waters and paraded them blindfolded on television, forcing them to make statements apologizing for their “mistake.” The U.K. crews said they were escorted forcibly into Iranian waters.