Terri Judd: A stretch of sea where disputes escalate
Tuesday 01 December 2009
The capture of five British sailors by the Iranians carries strong echoes of the moment two-and-a-half years ago when 15 Navy sailors and Royal Marines were detained.
This time, the hostages are civilian yachtsmen, but the latest incident provides a strong reminder that the Iranians are unforgiving to anyone seen to stray into their waters, or even close by, in an area of sea where the border has been disputed for many years.
On board HMS Cornwall in March 2007, I recall the shock with which the taskforce protecting Iraq's vital oil platforms greeted the news that the boarding team had been taken captive by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy.
Despite protestations that they were 1.7 nautical miles within Iraqi territory, the lightly armed team in RHIBS (rigid-hull inflatable boats) was swiftly surrounded by Iranians carrying heavy machine guns on their fast skiffs.
Initially, the HMS Cornwall's company hoped that this was the work of local commanders and the boarding team would be swiftly released.
But they were soon imprisoned in Tehran. Days later, they were humiliated publicly as they were paraded on television. "Confessions" were drawn from the team, in particular from Leading Seaman Faye Turney, the only woman in the group.
With relationships between UK and Iran strained – as they still are today – over the latter's nuclear programme, the two sides argued over whether the team had in fact been inside Iranian waters.
After a fortnight, in what must have been deemed a PR coup for his country, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad agreed to release them. Once again, the captives were paraded for the cameras, but now in brand new clothes with gifts. On their homecoming they revealed the mental torture and mistreatment they had been subjected to in captivity.
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