x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Captured sailors return home

The remaining four of five British sailors who were held captive by Iran have been reunited with their families.

Luke Porter, third from left, one of the five British yachtsman detained in Iran poses with his family in London yesterday.
Luke Porter, third from left, one of the five British yachtsman detained in Iran poses with his family in London yesterday.

DUBAI // The remaining four of five British sailors who were held captive by Iran were reunited with their families yesterday. "I am delighted to be back home," said the skipper, Oliver Smith, 31. He and crew members Sam Usher, 26, Oliver Young and Luke Porter, both 21, left Dubai on an early flight and were met by their families when they landed at London's Heathrow Airport at 7am. "It's the best Christmas present I could have," said Mr Porter's twin sister, Jessica.

The fifth team member, David Bloomer, a radio presenter in his sixties who is based in Bahrain, was flown home on Thursday and met by his wife, Vanessa. The sailors' return marked the end of an incident that threatened to cause diplomatic tensions between Britain and Iran. The five-man crew left Bahrain for the Dubai-Muscat Offshore Sailing Race, but their yacht, the Kingdom of Bahrain, drifted into Iranian waters when they experienced navigational problems and a faulty propeller.

They were captured by the Revolutionary Guard on November 25 and held for six days in a locked hotel room on the heavily fortified island of Sirri, 65 miles from the UAE. The men were blindfolded when they were arrested and held by armed guards. Once Iran concluded that they had sailed into Iranian waters by mistake, they were released. Their boat was towed to international waters and they sailed on to Dubai, where they were put up at Le Meridien Mina Seyahi hotel. The men said they never felt seriously threatened during the ordeal, and the only danger they faced was to their waistlines after being plied with three meals a day.

"The Iranians went out of their way to be friendly to all of us once they discovered it was a genuine mistake," Mr Bloomer said. "If anything, we may be a bit overweight because they were feeding us so much." Nick Crabtree, the director of Team Pindar, the boat's sponsor, accompanied four of the sailors on their flight back to Britain. A spokeswoman for the sponsor said: "They were treated fantastically in Dubai and enjoyed the hospitality they were given there, but they mainly slept a lot and were keen to talk to their families on the phone. They are now very relieved to be home. They have all been reunited with their families."

Before leaving, the sailors checked their boat, which was anchored offshore in Dubai yesterday. The spokeswoman said the team did not know the extent of the damage or how long it would take to repair. All five men have vowed to return to Dubai for a race in February. tyaqoob@thenational.ae