Page last updated at 20:46 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Skipper of UK-crewed yacht admits Iran waters 'mistake'

UK yacht crew talk about their ordeal

The skipper of a British-crewed yacht detained by Iran has said they strayed into Iranian waters by "mistake".

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

The crew were sailing from Bahrain to Dubai to take part in a race when they drifted into Iran's territorial waters.

The group are now in Dubai - their original destination - and have held a brief news conference to give more details about the incident.

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 that once on the Iranian mainland, they were not allowed to leave the room where they were being held 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.

Well fed

Mr Smith, 31, from Southampton, Luke Porter, 21, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, Oliver Young, 21, from Saltash, Cornwall, Sam Usher, 26, from Scarborough, North Yorkshire, and Bahrain-based David Bloomer, who is believed to be in his 60s, were held on 25 November.

Mr Bloomer added: "If anything, we may be a bit overweight because they were feeding us so much."

He had earlier told the BBC the group were "over the moon" when they were given the news that they were to be released and that it felt "absolutely fantastic" to be free.


"Everybody is fine and in good form now, but it wasn't easy.

"We were stopped by the guys in the tow boats and they wanted to know who we were, what we were, where we were going.

"We told them and they seemed quite happy with that. Then they said no, they wanted more information then eventually they said no, you must turn round and come back with us."

Mr Bloomer said "more senior people" then arrived with an interpreter.

"They very quickly realised that we were not having any ill-intent and that we were innocent of all wrongdoing.

"We weren't aware that we were in a restricted area, but then of course they would have had to notify their superiors, and so on up the chain. It was out of their control, it was out of our control.

"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."

Mr Bloomer also said that the sailors were initially told they would be released "a couple of hours" after the initial incident.

Jon Leyne

By Jon Leyne, BBC Tehran correspondent
At the best of times, the Iranian government suspects the outside world is preoccupied with trying to undermine it.

That obsession has come close to paranoia, as Iran takes on the West over its nuclear programme.

Within the Iranian government, there is also likely to have been some discussion over whether the captured British yachtsmen could be exploited for propaganda purposes, as the Royal Navy sailors and Marines were when they were held two years ago.

Iran must have decided not.

Then the Iranian authorities said the crew should stay overnight on the boat and could leave in the morning, he added.

"The morning came, they said oh no, you need to talk to this person, that person.

"Then they said we better come ashore and have a shower and be more comfortable.

"So once they said that I knew we were going to be there for a while".

Iran's official IRNA news agency said the men had been released after an interrogation by authorities established that 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.

Edwin Smith, father of Oliver Smith said: "We've all been holding our breath and crossing our fingers for the last seven days, not knowing if this was going to last a week, three weeks, three months or however long."

Mr Smith said they had thanked Foreign Secretary David Miliband for the work done on their sons' behalf.

Luke Porter's parents say they are elated after news of his release

"We said thank you because we think he handled it very well, keeping it low key, and keeping it entirely an issue about five sailors, completely divorced from any of the political or diplomatic issues around," he said.

Mr Miliband told reporters it had been "a purely consular case" and said he was pleased that the matter had been dealt with in a "professional and straightforward way" by the Iranian authorities.

He added: "Obviously there's been a real ordeal for the young men and for their families, and I'm really delighted that it's over for them and we can call the matter closed."

Racing yacht

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 BBC's Tehran correspondent Jon Leyne said the investigation had been "lightning-fast" by Iranian standards.

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.

Map of the Gulf

Print Sponsor

Where not to go in a boat
02 Dec 09 |  Magazine

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific