x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

British sailors: 'We made a mistake'

Five Britons, arrested when their yacht drifted into Iranian waters, arrive in Dubai after a week under investigation and admit they were at fault.

The British sailors, from left - Sam Usher, Oliver Smith, David Bloomer, Oliver Young and Luke Porter - arrived in Dubai last night.
The British sailors, from left - Sam Usher, Oliver Smith, David Bloomer, Oliver Young and Luke Porter - arrived in Dubai last night.

Five Britons, arrested when their yacht drifted into Iranian waters, arrived in Dubai last night after spending almost a week under investigation. The five men - Oliver Smith, Oliver Young, Sam Usher, Luke Porter and David Bloomer - were brought by a speedboat from their racing vessel Kingdom to Bahrain to the Dubai International Marine Club at around 9.15pm. They were met by Guy Warrington, the British Consul General, and Saeed Harib, the president of the UAE Marine Sports Federation.

All appeared in good spirits, wearing white T-shirts with "crew" written on the back. Mr Smith, the captain of the vessel, said there had been "plenty of moments" at the beginning of their ordeal when they were concerned about how the situation would end. "It was our mistake to end up there, we didn't want to end up there," said Mr Smith, speaking on behalf of his team during a press conference just an hour after they arrived in Dubai last night. "We had no intention of upsetting anyone, we were just trying to get here to start a yacht race." During their almost week in captivity, the men were kept together and Mr Bloomer, the oldest crew member and a radio DJ in Bahrain, said that they were treated well. "All of the Iranians, once they discovered we had no ill-intent and it was a genuine mistake, went out of their way to be friendly to all of us," he said. "But, we still looked to the skipper for guidance." According to Nick Crabtree, the director of Team Pindar, the decision was taken to bring the crew to Dubai because it was closer than traveling directly back to Bahrain. They were being held just 65 miles from Dubai, he said. Their ordeal began last Wednesday, when the 60ft yacht developed propeller problems en route from Bahrain to Dubai, the starting point for the 360-mile Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race, which began on November 26. Without power, they drifted into Iranian waters, where they were seized by the elite Revolutionary Guard navy.

After interrogation, however, Tehran decided the sailors had committed an innocent mistake. They were towed back to international waters and released. "After carrying out an investigation and interrogation of the five British sailors, it became clear their illegal entry was a mistake," the Revolutionary Guard navy said in a statement on the state IRNA news agency. "After obtaining necessary guarantees, it was decided to release them."

Their release eased concerns that the arrest could heighten tensions in the ongoing row over Iran's nuclear ambitions. The US claims Iran's nuclear programme is intended for weapons development, and Tehran continues to insist the programme is peaceful. Iran had warned on Tuesday that the sailors would be prosecuted if it was proven they had "bad intentions" when they entered Iranian waters. Britain, which had been keen to diffuse the situation before it became too politicised, was pleased by their prompt release.

"I welcome the fact this has been dealt with in a straightforward, professional way by the Iranian authorities," said the British foreign secretary, David Miliband. "Obviously this has been a real ordeal for the young men and their families and I'm really delighted that it's over for them and that we can call the matter closed." It was not clear where the Britons were held while in custody. David Young, whose son Oliver was among the five yachtsmen, said he was "very relieved" by the news. "We thought it would be over quickly. This is what we were hoping for," Mr Young said.

Andrew Pindar, the chairman of the Sail Bahrain team which owns the sailors' yacht, thanked the Iranian authorities. "It has been an extremely worrying time for all of us and particularly for the families and loved ones of those on board," he said. He said the team had sent out a boat to meet the crew and accompany them safely to shore. In 2007, Iran seized 15 British military personnel in the Gulf, claiming they had entered Iranian waters, though Britain insisted they were in Iraqi waters. After 12 days all were freed.

zconstantine@thenational.ae asafdar@thenational.ae