The Iranian military seized 15 British naval personnel in the waters off Iraq early this morning, the British Ministry of Defence said today in a statement posted to its Web site.I'm assuming we'll find out more about this as the day goes on.
The British sailors were conducting what the ministry described as "routine boarding operations" of a merchant marine vessel when they were surrounded by Iranian military boats and escorted into Iranian waters.
Iraqi waters and the Persian Gulf in general are monitored closely for smuggling by the U.S. and coalition forces. The area's complicated geography, particularly the narrow Shatt al Arab waterway shared by Iran and Iraq, has been a source of repeated dispute. The Iranian military took control of three British boats in 2004, accusing the eight crew members of crossing into Iranian waters. They were released after reading an apology on an Iranian television broadcast.
U.K. officials said they were "urgently" pursuing the issue with the Iranian government and had summoned the Iranian ambassador to the British Foreign Office.
"The British Government is demanding the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment," the Ministry of Defence statement said.
UPDATE: Iran claims the British sailors have allegedly "confessed" to entering Iranian waters. The sailors have in the meantime been moved to Teheran for further questioning.