Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

British yachtsmen held for a week freed by Iran

(From left): Sam Usher, Oliver Smith, Luke Porter, Oliver Young
The crew were on their way to take part in the Dubai-Muscat yacht race

Five British yachtsmen held by Iran's Revolutionary Guard for a week have been released, the UK has confirmed.

The crew are said to have drifted into Iranian waters mistakenly while sailing from Bahrain to Dubai for a race.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the men had left the island of Siri and were heading for international waters.

A statement by the Revolutionary Guard said interrogations had revealed their "illegal entry" had been "a mistake". Relatives have told of their relief.

Luke Porter, 21, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, Oliver Smith, 31, from Southampton, 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.

A Foreign Office statement said: "We understand that they are being towed to international waters and will be met by a representative from the sailing company."

The BBC has spoken to Nick Crabtree, the Sail Bahrain team leader, who is on-board the yacht with the sailors.

He said they are currently being towed to Dubai on their yacht and that all are well and safe and in good condition.

'Very relieved'

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

Iranian radio said the five had been freed at 0730 local time (0400 GMT).

Iran's official IRNA news agency said they 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."

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.

ANALYSIS
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.

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."

The Prime Minister's spokesman said Gordon Brown had been kept closely informed of developments and was "pleased" that the yachtsmen had been released.

"It was dealt with in a quiet, diplomatic way, which is entirely right, and the result is that the yachtsmen are free," the spokesman added.

Beverley Porter, Luke's mother, praised the hard work of the Foreign Office and offered "grateful thanks to Iran for seeing it as it was - just human error".

She added: "The boys never meant to be there in the first place.

"Thankfully, Iran have seen it that way."

Her husband Charles said he believed his son "will have done very well, he will have held it together and been very strong".

David Young, Oliver's father, said he was "very relieved, obviously".

He added: "We thought this would be over quickly, and this is what we were hoping for."

Sam Usher's fiancee, Nicola Drayton, said the hardest part of the ordeal had been "not knowing where they are, not having contact with them".

She added: "We'll be very, very glad to get them home."

Sam's mum Sue Stroud added that "there will be some tears of joy" when the crew return to the UK.

In a statement, Oliver Smith's father, Edwin, of Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, said he was "tremendously relieved that this whole affair has been dealt with properly".

'Lightning-fast'

The news comes hours after Mr Miliband spoke by phone to his Iranian counterpart.

The five were detained after the Revolutionary Guard stopped their Volvo 60 yacht, called 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.

David Bloomer
Bahrain-based yachtsman David Bloomer is among those released

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

The 360-nautical mile Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race began on 26 November and ended two days later in the Omani capital's Bandar Al-Rawdah marina.

Race organisers said the five could have been "drifting" as a result of propeller problems.

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



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