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'Kingdom of Bahrain' held by Iran - Britons on board

by Katherine Haddon, AFP on 1 Dec 2009
Four of the five Brits captured - from left Sam Usher, Oliver Smith, Luke Porter and Oliver Young SW
Five Britons are being detained in Iran after Tehran's navy seized their yacht, which may have strayed into Iranian waters in the Gulf, the Foreign Office said yesterday (Monday).

The racing yacht crewed by five Britons 'was stopped by Iranian naval vessels, on its way from Bahrain to Dubai and may have strayed inadvertently into Iranian waters,' the FO said. The crew aboard 'The Kingdom of Bahrain' were Oliver Smith, Oliver Young, Sam Usher, Luke Porter and David Bloomer, according to informed sources in London. The boat was arrested while sailing to Dubai for the start of the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race.

Mark Turner the chief executive of the leading Cowes-based sail racing company OC Group, who is familiar with sailing in the Gulf, told The Times Monday night that the sailors on the Kingdom of Bahrain appeared to have been boarded twice by the Iranians. The first time they were allowed to go on their way; the second time they were detained.

Mr Turner said he had been informed that the crew had drifted in windless conditions into Iranian waters last Wednesday. They were then boarded by Iranian security forces who confiscated the yacht’s navigation computers. Once the Iranians were satisfied that the computers were harmless, they were returned to the boat and the crew was told they were free to go.

At this point the sailors, who are described as 'delivery crew' and do not include any well known British racing yachtsmen, tried to start the boat’s engine but it broke down and they continued to drift on a flat sea.

They were reported to have made contact with a shipping company in Dubai to try to arrange a tow but, before this was organised, the Iranians seem to have had a change of heart and re-boarded the yacht and seized it.

The yacht is owned by Sail Bahrain, and run by Team Pindar.

Previous incidents involving foreigners being seized by Iranian authorities include in November 2005 when Frenchman Stephane Lherbier and German Donald Klein were arrested for entering Iranian territorial waters in a fishing boat, and were each sentenced to 18 months in jail.

The two men said they had been misled by Emirati maps showing the waters as belonging to the UAE. Both were freed after serving 14 months.

And in March 2006, two Swedish nationals, Stefan Johanssen and Jari Hjortmar, were arrested for taking pictures of military installations on Iran's southern island of Qeshm and sentenced to two years in prison. They were released after a year behind bars.

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