LONDON (Reuters) - Five Britons have been detained in Iran after their racing yacht may have inadvertently strayed into Iranian waters, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Monday.
The yacht was stopped by Iranian naval vessels on November 25, he said in a statement. Race organizers said the vessel had reported problems with a propeller en route from Bahrain to Dubai.
The Volvo 60 class yacht, called Kingdom of Bahrain and owned by the Sail Bahrain project launched by the Team Pindar sailing team, was due to have reached Dubai on November 26 to take part in a 360-mile Dubai-Muscat race, local media said last week.
British television identified the five sailors as Oliver Smith, Sam Usher, Oliver Young, Luke Porter and David Bloomer.
Race organizer Louay Habib told BBC radio from Dubai: “The shore crew for Team Pindar Kingdom of Bahrain contacted us on the 25th of November in the afternoon here, reporting that they had problems with their propeller.
“There was no wind at the time and they told us they were organizing for a tow to come and get them.”
Habib said the yacht had no tracking device and at the time of the call was about 60 miles from Dubai and 20 miles from Iranian waters.
Miliband said the five were still in Iran and were understood to be safe and well and their families had been informed.
Foreign Office officials “immediately contacted the Iranian authorities in London and in Tehran on the evening of 25 November, both to seek clarification and to try and resolve the matter swiftly,” the statement said.
“Our ambassador in Tehran has raised the issue with the Iranian Foreign Ministry and we have discussed the matter with the Iranian embassy in London.
“I hope this issue will soon be resolved. We will remain in close touch with the Iranian authorities, as well as the families.”
Oil prices rose by more than $1 on fears of a diplomatic crisis after news of the detention was made public.
Tension has dogged relations between Britain and Iran in recent years over a range of issues from Tehran’s nuclear program to Iranian allegations of British involvement in post-election violence in June this year.
Britain protested to Iran over a speech by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the wake of the June protests, in which he called it “the most treacherous” of Iran’s enemies.
In March 2007, Iranian forces seized eight British Royal Navy sailors and seven marines, in the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway that separates Iran and Iraq.
They were freed unharmed the following month as a “gift” from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who scolded Britain for not being “brave enough” to admit they had made a mistake and strayed into Iranian waters.
Three Americans who crossed into Iran from northern Iraq in July this year are still detained and face spying charges. Their families say they were hiking and strayed across the border accidentally.
On Sunday, Miliband was among several world leaders to condemn Iran’s announcement that it planned to build 10 new uranium enrichment plants in a major expansion of its atomic program. Miliband accused Iran of choosing to “provoke and dissemble” rather than engage in talks.
Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Andrew Dobbie