Reuters: The British envoy to Tehran on Sunday requested access to 15 detained British naval personnel who Iran says entered Iranian waters illegally despite Britain’s insistence they were in Iraqi territory, a diplomat said. TEHRAN (Reuters) – The British envoy to Tehran on Sunday requested access to 15 detained British naval personnel who Iran says entered Iranian waters illegally despite Britain’s insistence they were in Iraqi territory, a diplomat said.
Iranian forces captured 15 British sailors and marines on Friday at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which marks the southern stretch of Iraq’s border with Iran.
It has sparked a diplomatic crisis when tensions are already high with the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. The U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions on Iran on Saturday.
Britain’s Ambassador Geoffrey Adams met Iranian Foreign Ministry official Ebrahim Rahimpour to discuss the issue at London’s request, a British diplomat in Tehran told Reuters.
“We have repeated the line asking for their release. We asked for details of where they are and asked for consular access,” the diplomat said.
“The (Iranian Foreign Ministry) promised to look into these requests and dialogue is continuing,” the diplomat added.
Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported on Saturday that the 15 sailors and marines had been transferred to Tehran. But this has not been independently confirmed.
Jack Straw, leader of Britain’s House of Commons and former Foreign Minister, told BBC television that one of those detained was a woman and said British Foreign Ministry officials were “working very hard indeed to try to secure their safe return”.
“It requires some very careful and intense diplomacy,” Straw said.
Britain said two boatloads of Royal Navy sailors and marines had searched a merchant vessel on a U.N. approved mission in Iraqi waters when Iranian gunboats encircled and captured them.
An Iraqi fisherman who said he saw Iranian forces detain them, said on Saturday the ship British forces were searching was anchored in Iraqi waters.
The incident sent oil prices to a three-month high on Friday. It took place a day after Iran launched a week of naval war games along its coast, including the Gulf’s northern reaches which give access to the oil output of Iraq, Iran and Kuwait.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Lovell in London)