Freed British yachtsmen sail into Dubai
Wednesday 02 December 2009
British sailor David Bloomer said it was "wonderful" to be free tonight after he and four yachtsmen were released by the Iranian authorities.
Mr Bloomer was detained last week along with Oliver Smith, Oliver Young, Sam Usher and Luke Porter after their yacht strayed into Iranian waters.
Mr Bloomer, a Bahrain-based radio presenter, said the five were all fit and healthy, adding: "If anything, we may be a bit overweight because they were feeding us so much."
He said they had been treated "very well" but were delighted to be free. They were told they would be released when the guards brought them breakfast as usual this morning.
"They said 'You are free to go'," he said.
"We were surprised."
Mr Bloomer, speaking to the Press Association before docking in Dubai, said: "It was absolute joy. It was amazing."
The news was particularly welcome to Mr Bloomer who said he had found his last night in captivity "particularly bad".
"I didn't want to build my hopes up," he said.
Mr Bloomer said he was pleased that the men had been held together so were better able to keep up their spirits.
"There were five of us in one room. It might not seem the ideal but we had an en-suite bathroom and were fed very well.
"They kept asking if we wanted anything more."
But Mr Bloomer said he was looking forward to having a beer and bacon and egg.
"We were fed very well but there was no bacon or pork, of course, or alcohol where we were."
Mr Bloomer said there was no doubt that the yacht, the Kingdom of Bahrain, had strayed into Iranian waters as the crew headed from Bahrain to Dubai to take part in a sailing race.
"We were in their waters but it wasn't marked on the charts that we had," he said.
"We were trying to avoid the oil rigs in the area."
Mr Bloomer said the crew thought they were going to be released immediately when they were stopped and questioned.
"Then they said they wanted more information," he said.
"Very quickly the people who had stopped us and the people at the base realised it was an innocent mistake."
Although the group were well-treated, Mr Bloomer said: "It wasn't pleasant when you are not in charge of your own destiny. It's very difficult.
"Your mind starts playing all sorts of tricks, thinking about other incidents, thinking about how long you're going to be here."
Speaking outside the Foreign Office, Oliver Smith's father, Edwin, said the men's families had thanked the authorities for securing their release.
They planned to watch the moment they came ashore in Dubai on television.
He said: "My son said to us on the phone on the way up it was a little bit tense on the first day and then all the guys were cool, everybody was happy.
"From my own experience of Iran many years ago, I'm not at all surprised they've treated them very well, which is what I would have expected."
He praised the way the incident had been kept "low key" and isolated from other diplomatic issues between Iran and the UK.
Luke Porter's father, Charles, said the group were blindfolded when they were first taken and were "very relieved" to find that they had not been separated.
Mr Bloomer, speaking on BBC Radio 5 live to Peter Allen for the Drive programme, said the experience had been a "bit of a rollercoaster".
He said: "Basically, when it came down to it, they had a job to do and they very quickly realised that we had no ill-intent, that we were innocent of all wrongdoing.
"We were not aware that we were in a restricted area.
"But then, of course, they would have to notify their superiors, go one up the chain, and it was out of their control and out of our control."
He said the worst thing had not been knowing what was happening.
Asked how they all were, he said: "Everybody is fine and in good form now.
"It was great to get out and do some sailing again. That was what we came here to do."
Mr Porter said being allowed to stay together meant "an awful lot" to the sailors after they were blindfolded and taken off their yacht.
He said: "They were very, very relieved when the blindfolds were then removed to find that they were together.
"I think their fear was that they were going to be held separately and, as a very tight team, being together meant an awful lot."
Asked if they should have been let go sooner, Mr Smith said: "In a perfect world, yes, but I suspect that, in a country like Iran, whoever wanted to take that decision would have to ask his boss, who would have to ask his boss, who would have to ask Tehran."
Asked what he would say to his son next time he spoke to him, he quipped: "I would say 'Don't get lost on your way into Dubai'."
Mr Smith, 31, from Southampton; Mr Young, 21, from Saltash, near Plymouth; Mr Usher, 26, from Scarborough, North Yorkshire; Mr Porter, 21, from Weston-super-Mare; and Bahrain-based radio presenter Mr Bloomer, thought to be in his 60s, were detained last Wednesday by the Iranian authorities.
Foreign Secretary David Miliband welcomed the end to the men's "ordeal", saying the move to free them by the Iranian authorities was proof that "diplomacy can work".
Speaking outside the Foreign Office tonight, Mr Porter's family said they had spoken to him since his release this morning and he was "elated".
His father, Charles, from Weston-Super-Mare, said: "His first words to his mum were 'Mum, I'm out. We've had a bit of trouble but I'm OK', as if it was a bad rugby game he had been through, rather than a pretty hideous experience."
He added: "He's very, very tired, he's been through a lot. He said that the first couple of days were quite upsetting, but then they got the feeling they were not dealing with anything sinister. I understand they've been treated very fairly.
"The Foreign Office have been fantastic, they've communicated brilliantly with us.
"Luke is a laid-back, very solid character. They were taken off the boat blindfold, and they were scared they were going to be held separately, so when they realised they were not going to be, that was fantastic for them."
His wife, Beverley, said: "He feels exhausted, but elated. At first they feared they were going to be kept in separate rooms, but they've been in the same room, they've been able to be a comfort to each other.
"It's been important for us to keep strong for him."
Luke's twin sister, Jessica, said: "I'm absolutely relieved, it's the best Christmas present I could have, to have him back with us."
Speaking outside Mr Usher's home in Scarborough, his fiancee, Nicola Drayton, said she was "elated that he has been freed - just can't wait to get him home safe and sound".
Mr Smith's father, Edwin, from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, said: "We are tremendously relieved that this whole affair has been dealt with properly by the Iranian government, by the Foreign Office and by Team Pindar.
"The Iranian authorities have accepted that this was an unintentional error by five sailors who were keen to get to Dubai in time to start their race, and nothing more."
Mr Miliband, in a statement outside his London home, said he welcomed the fact that the matter had been dealt with in a "professional and straightforward way" by the Iranian authorities.
He said: "Obviously, there has been a real ordeal for the young men and for their families and I am really delighted that it is over for them and that we can call the matter closed."
The release came after Mr Miliband pressed his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, last night for information on what his country planned to do with the group, who were detained last Wednesday.
Rasoul Movahedian, the Iranian ambassador to the UK, also met permanent under-secretary Peter Ricketts at the Foreign Office yesterday evening.
The confirmation of the men's release comes after Iran's official IRNA news agency said the yachtsmen were freed following an interrogation by authorities which found they had entered Iranian waters by mistake.
"After carrying out an investigation and interrogation of the five British sailors, it became clear that their illegal entry was a mistake," a statement by Iran's Revolutionary Guard said.
"After obtaining necessary guarantees, it was decided to release them."
The five men, wearing white Team Pindar polo shirts with the word crew on the back, smiled broadly after they arrived in Dubai.
Mr Bloomer was wearing a scarf which he bought in a market in Iran, according to reports.
They did not speak to reporters as they headed for a luxury hotel where they will hold a press conference later tonight.
In captivity: The five Britons on board Kingdom of Bahrain
The skipper of the yacht is 31. He is an experienced sailor with a degree in ocean science and marine navigation from Plymouth University, where he sailed with the men's first team. He then spent six months skippering a 50ft survey yacht and doing delivery work in South America and the Caribbean. He was in a team that came third in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers, and in 2003 went on to work for Pure Sailing as skipper of a Volvo 60 race boat. A friend, Conrad Humphreys, said: "He will be used to working in obscure hours with little sleep."
Mr Porter's parents, Charles and Beverley, say that the 21-year-old professional sailor is used to dealing with adversity. He first started crewing his father's racing yacht at 14 and is now an "ocean master" with vast experience, having made five transatlantic crossings and taken part in regattas in the Caribbean. Charles Porter, of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, said: "He is a very strong character, very resilient. He's as good as we can expect."
One of the youngest of the captives, 21-year-old Mr Young was described as very mature for his age. One of four brothers, from Saltash, near Plymouth, he qualified as a professional yachtsman after leaving school. His mother, Susan, said: "He will be absolutely fine. He is a very strong person, he will be coping. The team get on really well, they are a really nice group of lads and I am not worried about their morale or anything like that. As a mother I do feel worried, but who wouldn't be? We are just hopeful that it will all come to an end very soon." Sailing had always been a passion, she said, and she doubted that this would put him off.
A well-known radio presenter in Bahrain, where he has lived since the mid-Eighties, Mr Bloomer hosts the Friday morning sports show. He planned to send reports of the yacht's progress back from the race. In his sixties and married to a Gulf Air hostess, he sailed in his youth but developed a passion for off-road driving, qualifying as an instructor and taking part in adventures from the Amazon to the Namib and Kalahari deserts. A friend said he would be a calming influence on the younger captives with his unfailing "dry Irish sense of humour".
The father of two children Mr Usher, 26, has owned and run a sailing academy called Wykeham Watersports in Yorkshire for the past five years. As well as offering instruction in sailing, windsurfing, power boating, canoeing and kayaking, it is affiliated with a charity that helps people with cancer and their families. Just before their capture he posted a message on Facebook, saying: "Hi Lads, see you in a few days for the event. Hope all has been going ok!"
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