Iranian naval vessels seized 15 British sailors in Iraqi waters on Friday, the Ministry of Defense said.
The British Navy personnel were “engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters,” and had completed their inspection of a merchant ship when they were accosted by Iranian vessels, the ministry said.
“We are urgently pursuing this matter with the Iranian authorities at the highest level and … the Iranian ambassador has been summoned to the Foreign Office,” the ministry said.
A Pentagon official said the Britons were in two inflatable boats from the frigate H.M.S. Cornwall during a routine smuggling investigation, said the official, who spoke on condition on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the incident.
He said the confrontation happened as the British contingent was traveling along the boundary of territorial waters between Iran and Iraq. They were detained by the Revolutionary Guard’s navy, he said.
A fisherman who said he was with a group of Iraqis from the southern city of Basra fishing in Iraqi waters in the northern area of the Gulf said he saw the Iranian seizure. The fisherman declined to be identified because of security concerns.
“Two boats, each with a crew of six to eight multinational forces, were searching Iraqi and Iranian boats Friday morning in Ras al-Beesha area in the northern entrance of the Arab Gulf, but big Iranian boats came and took the two boats with their crews to the Iranian waters.”
The Britain government said it had demanded “the immediate and safe return of our people and equipment.”