Iranians Capture British Sailors (Again) 38

One of this blog’s finest hours came when I was able to point out that the British Navy personnel captured by Iran were quite possibly in Iranian waters, and that the British government had produced a fake boundary map with no legal basis to justify its claims.

Coming as it did in the middle of massive Jingoistic propaganda, even though my assertions were true to anybody who did five minute’s research, it gave me an uncomfortable week, but finally it was universally accepted that I was telling the truth.

But the current case of arrest by Iran of civilian yachtsmen is completely different. Civilian mariners have every right to transit through territorial seas. As with the last incident, complete ignorance of the Law of the Sea is making media coverage useless. The question is inot if

It is thought the vessel may have strayed inadvertently into Iranian waters, the Foreign Office said

Unlike military personnel boarding ships, civilian ships have every right to sail through anybody’s territorial waters, including Iran’s. The Right to Innocent Passage, subject to reasonable navigation safety regulations, is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. So the Iranians had absolutely no right to arrest these yachtsmen, whether they were in Iranian territorial waters or not.

It is a sign of the times that the Guardian does not know and is apparently incapable of researching this basic fact, That the same seems to be true of the Foreign Office is deeply disturbing.

38 thoughts on “Iranians Capture British Sailors (Again)

1 2
  • arsalan goldberg

    Craig I phoned you just before you went for the interview on TV about the British sailors, do you remember?

    Anyway, I wonder what would happen if Iranian civilian yachtsmen were caught in British waters? What if it happened at a time when Iran had invaded Britain’s neighbor or neighbors, lets say France and Ireland?

    What if it happened at a time when Iran was threatening the UK about its civilian Nuclear sites, not to mention Britain’s military nuclear sites?

    What if all of these things were going on when a Iranian civilian yachtsman was captured in British waters, what would be the reaction of this government and its press?

  • glenn

    We’ll have to see how this plays out, but Iran has got plenty of reason to be suspicious of us. Whether or not a bunch of westerners claim to be civilian, Iran might be forgiven – at least in this early stage – of wondering if there is more to it. After all, the US routinely boards civilian ships going anywhere near its own waters. If they had found a bunch of Iranians on board, I doubt if their feet would have touched the ground (or sea) before they were thoroughly interrogated.

    A defunct blog might offer a momentary interest in what happened the last time around:

  • Craig


    Sorry that’s rubbish. I am quite sure their are Iranian sailors in British territorial waters, pretty well all the time. People who excuse any enemy of the US anything, no matter how bad, their behaviour, are foolish.

  • Craig

    The US boards only a tiny percentage of ships entering its waters – well under 1 per cent – and certainly does not arrst people without cause.

    The idea that with all our satellite surveillance capability, and naval patrol vessels just outside Iranian waters, we sent people on a racing yacht to look into what, exactly, is absurd.

  • Craig

    well, OK, doubtless it does arrest peole without cause sometimes, but it shouldn’t. And you have to be a mutton-head to think that bad behaviour by the US against innocent people would justify bad behaviour by Iran against innocent people.

  • JM

    Craig – Couldn’t the same rule apply to land boundaries? Makes me think of the Americans that ‘wandered’ into Iran from Iraqi Kurdistan and are still being held. It seems similar enough as they were supposedly civilians and also crossing what was termed an ill-defined boundary. Would a similar logic apply to that circumstance?


  • Craig


    Normally land boundaries are much better and longer defined. Unlike the maritime boundary, I am pretty sure the Iran/Iraq land boundary is defined by treaty, but I am not an expert on land boundaries.

    But in fact the law is different. There is a right to innocent passage by sea, but not by land – (except for some rights of transit access to landlocked countries, not yet fully accepted as customary international law). In short, you are entitled freely to enter territorial waters, but not to land. You are not entitled to cross the land border.

  • Anonymous


    “It is a sign of the times that the Guardian does not know and is apparently incapable of researching this basic fact, That the same seems to be true of the Foreign Office is deeply disturbing.”

    Maybe they’re still smarting so much from the last time you made fools of them that they’ve blundered arse backwards into exactly the opposite mistake…

  • JM


    I pretty much knew that was true but was more on about the nature of boundaries in general and Iran specifically being one who pushes them a bit far specifically. International law can be bandied about but Iran seems to do little to respect it and I doubt an appeal such as you are making would do much for their case. I see this case and the one of the American trekkers as being related – held hostage as possible political pawns. Unfortunately, I don’t think appealing to the law of the sea will work out for these folks.

  • Frazer

    I inadvertantly strayed into Tanzanian waters last week on Lake Tanganyia, while testing out my new boat, it is a 14 seat RHIB (Ridged Hull Inflatable boat)…We use it for costal erosian surveys. The soldiers who stopped me were very polite and we shared several beers together on a small island…if life were only that simple !!

  • Paul Johnston

    With the best best will in the world history shows how often we have used ‘civilians’ for roles which are not strictly ‘civil’. Just read up on the history of the ‘Great Game’ for sailors read Butterfly Hunters, Orchid Collectors etc!

    I’m not saying there is anything in it but are you surprised the Iranians are jumpy? That of course is not factoring in the chaotic nature of Iranian politics. ‘An Iranian foreign ministry official told the Associated Press he was not aware of reports that a British yacht had been stopped’ does suggest the left hand might not know what the right one does!


  • ingo

    Hypocrisy stinks!

    Pirates in Somalia seized an elderly couple on their yacht, very much in international waters. last week they were pleading for help in fear for their lives.It appears the foreign office has done very little to help these two OAP’s

    Iranian waters and british sailors on a Dubai to Muskat race seem to ask for a different approach, after all we are antagonising Iran at present for its pathetic nuclear programm, to suck up to the US/Israel polemics.

    Unless Israels nuclear weapons are on the table, Iran has as much right to counter this threat with a mutual assured destruction programm than the west had during the cold war.

    Iran is surrounded by instabile countries, slobbering war dogs, two large navy contingents and subjected to a clandestine 400 milion insurection programm by the US, enough to make any country jittery.

    Sorry but I do not buy this concentrated hype anymore, the BBC falling over themselves to comply with the wishes of US foreing policy goals.

    Would it not be more appropriate now to cut that navel and move away from the military industrial interests of a diminishing super power and take our place were we belong, in the centre of Europe?

  • Dick the Prick


    Fair points, well made. But in some form of compromise between yourself and arsalan – why shouldn’t Iran have a bit of a propoganda spree? If the story err..holds water that their outboard motor broke and they drifted then the Iranians would have known almost immediately. I guess, depending on how it broke may need some investigation – i.e. was it sabotaged as they saw the Iranians coming closer?

    I’d be surprised if this were to go much into the new year.

  • George Dutton

    Picked this up from another blog…

    “Marvellous, isn’t it? This makes front page news, broadcasting headlines, government statements and wringing of hands all over the place. Earlier this year, Israeli gunboat pirates boarded a mercy vessel in international waters, took six Britons and US Senator Cynthia McKinnie hostage at rifelpoint, and kept them locked up for a week…not a peep out of the west. The hypocrisy is mind-boggling.”

    Another post from the same blog wrote…

    “Sounds like a manufactured incident.”

    Me thinks that too.

  • Craig


    The reason that I will never join the left is that apparently you have to switch your brain off and decide that bad behaviour by the US and Israel is sufficient justification for bad behaviour by everybody else.

  • Rob Lewis

    How did the Iranians know there would be a British crew on the stopped yacht? Because they’d read the team rosters for the race? Surely not that. Neither was the yacht flying the UK flag, as far as I understand.

    Most likely the Iranians were monitoring radio comms, I suppose. I guess a small craft with English voices in Iranian waters would be taken for some sort of military insertion or recce. And on apprehension, it would probably take more than visual identification as a civilian vessel before it could be let go. UK and Israeli special forces have already made countless insertions into Iraqi territory dressed as civilians.

    It wouldn’t help if some of the yacht’s crew were ex-Navy either.

    While I suppose there is a slim possibility that the “Kingdom of Bahrain” was asked in some small way to help with intelligence gathering, I am sure the five crewmen will all be back safe and sound in no time at all, though.

    Odd is that it took five whole days for the news to surface.

  • selma

    ‘The reason that I will never join the left is that apparently you have to switch your brain off and decide that bad behaviour by the US and Israel is sufficient justification for bad behaviour by everybody else.’

    Describing the behaviour of the US and Isreal as “bad” is like calling Hitler a ‘rascal’. These warmongering war criminals are threatening the destruction of Iran, how can you compare their behaviour to the holding of a crew who our ‘media’ (you know, that crowd of lying swine)say are civilians?

    As for your generalisation regarding ‘the left’…that sort of nonsense is, I believe, below someone who pretends to any sort of intellectual honesty!

  • Richard

    “Would it not be more appropriate now to … take our place were we belong, in the centre of Europe?”

    Consults map, scratches head. So far as I can see, this gives us a choice between invading Slovakia and redefining north America to be a part of Europe.

  • glenn

    Craig wrote:

    “The reason that I will never join the left is that apparently you have to switch your brain off and decide that bad behaviour by the US and Israel is sufficient justification for bad behaviour by everybody else.”

    I’m sorry you feel that way. Far from thinking poor behaviour by Iran (see? I recognise it to be poor behaviour!) is justified, I’m noting that it is understandable at times. Like suicide bombing – not justified, but understandable. Of course, Jenny Tong got pilloried for the crime of saying the latter.

    Iran is surrounded by nuclear armed, openly hostile neighbours, has a close US presidential candidate (McCain) singing songs about bomb, bomb, bombing Iran as being US policy when he gets in charge, has hundreds of millions spent undermining its government, and a history of its leaders replaced with brutal dictators, and wars ginned up by us between it and its neighbours. Regardless of how ‘left’ or ‘right’ one is, one should be able to understand there’s going to be a bit of Iranian suspicion coming our way. That’s not justifying actions against innocent people (assuming that’s what these sailors are). But it is understandable.

    Ahmadinejad can’t say “Happy Christmas” to us (Re. Ch-4 last xmas) without the right foaming at the mouth about it. I suppose that sort of reaction is more measured?

  • Glenn

    There you go again. No of course that is a stupid reaction. Again you are positing that stupid behaviour y the right justifies stupid behaviour by Iran – and making the still further typical left jump that because I condemn stupid behaviour by Iran, I must condone stupid behaviour by the right.


  • Tom Welsh

    I am more concerned about the discrepancies between the various stories I have heard in the media. One distinguished expert said that, due to the direction of the wind, the yacht’s crew may have had to tack into Iranian waters. Very plausible. But then the next expert I heard discussing the matter mentioned this business of the motor not working. Since when did sailing yachts use motors?

  • glenn

    The ‘Glenn’ who wrote on 12:52 was not me, but appears to have been addressing my 12:49pm post. Unfortunately, the 12:52 ‘Glenn’ did not notice that I specifically said – three times – that the behaviour was not justified. So why am I getting accused of “positing that stupid behaviour [b]y the right justifies stupid behaviour by Iran” ? Maybe I should have said Iran was not justified ten times instead of just thrice.

    Forgive me, but it _is_ a typical right-wing reaction to take anything less than unequivocal condemnation of an Official Enemy as an endorsement.

    Don’t take it personally, Craig… I still love ya.

  • Alex_C

    A mate of mine pointed me to this…

    I note with particular interest views above that:

    “People who excuse any enemy of the US anything, no matter how bad, their behaviour, are foolish.”


    “And you have to be a mutton-head to think that bad behaviour by the US against innocent people would justify bad behaviour by Iran against innocent people.”

    Jingoistic, much?

    I’ve witnessed a yank warship patrolling the Mediterranean, bullying anyone who came into radio signal, and threatening to impound anyone who didn’t immediately capitulate. I’m generally in favour of the US but that routine patrol (which didn’t come near me – carrying the white ensign of the RYS has its perks) confirmed a lot of the complaints we hear from ‘minor’ countries but not generally broadcast in western media.

    But to the subject in hand…

    I imagine the diplomatics have already happened along these lines:

    Brits: But our boys were just yacht racing – it’s allowed!

    Iranians: La la la we can’t hear you… You can have them back at xmas as a PR

    stunt if they agree to say they’ve been well looked after and we’re the

    big boys in town. Oh and if your weapons inspectors get arsey with us

    again we’ll start talking about beheading.

  • Richard

    “Since when did sailing yachts use motors?”

    Since they were available. Having a motor gives you more ability to not drift in undesirable directions, if the currents are taking you places you don’t want to go, and the wind isn’t strong enough to get you out. This can be handy.

    This simply as a point of information, since the question was asked. I don’t know enough about the conditions to have any idea whether it offers an explanation for what happened. The calculation on offer on R4 was that there was a 2 knot wind blowing and they drifted for 10 hours, therefore that explains how they travelled 20 knots. So – 1) 2 knots really isn’t very much wind, to move a boat 2) A wind of 2 knots wouldn’t necessarily move a boat at 2 knots. Currents, and friction, would also be relevant. Too many unknowns.

  • Jives

    I just dont believe anyhting the MSM hit us with after the Iraq/WMD lies.

    This seems a media orchestrated ratcheting up of events inre:Iran.Paxman was nauseatingly pliant to The Line last night on Newsnight.

    The Timeline for whacking Iran moves along,it seems,regardless of facts.

  • Tom Welsh

    Thanks for your helpful reply, Richard. I wondered how a racing yacht could afford the extra weight of a motor and the drag of a screw – but if they all have them, of course the handicap would cancel out.

  • Richard

    Tom W – I confess, I wasn’t sure that that a “racing yacht” would have one, until I heard it stated that it did and it had broken down (on which assumption my comments become relevant, there are good reasons for wanting one if you can have it, and avoidance of situations like this would be one of them).

    I don’t know much about yacht-racing, whether there are people who do make do without a motor; or, for that matter, what rules govern the racing of sailing craft that have engines – perhaps simple competitiveness would take care of the tradeoff, it being, after all, a race ?

    I don’t even have any idea what size this ‘racing yacht’ is. Oh, except I think I saw a reference somewhere to the motor being an outboard, which I guess, if correct, would tend to suggest a small one.

  • Chris, Glasgow

    “how can you compare their behaviour to the holding of a crew who our ‘media’ (you know, that crowd of lying swine)say are civilians?”

    Selma, What are you trying to say? Are you suggesting that the people on board that yacht were spies or military personel? Why would british military or intellegence with all their sophisticated technology use a yacht to spy on Iran??? Also would it not be easier for them to cross over into Iran from Afghanistan or even Iraq where most of them are stationed??

    I don’t think much of the criminal behaviour by the US and especially Isreal toward other countries in the middle east but the current Iranian government are not saintly people. Have you seen their human rights record for their own people, jesus!!! As Craig said you can’t excuse the Iranian Government terrible human rights record just because they are anti US.

1 2

Comments are closed.