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U.K.: Iran confirms release of 5 British sailors

Britain's Foreign Office says a yacht, owned by Sail Bahrain and carrying five U.K. nationals, may have strayed inadvertently into Iranian waters as it sailed to Dubai to take part in a race. Lloyd Images / AP
/ Source: news services

Iran released on Wednesday five British sailors who were detained last week when their 60-foot racing yacht drifted accidentally into Iran's Persian Gulf waters and was seized.

The elite Revolutionary Guard, whose navy had stopped the vessel, interrogated the yachtsmen and found that their "illegal entry" into Iranian waters had been a mistake, the official IRNA news agency said.

The British Foreign Office said that the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed that the sailors had been released.

A Foreign Office spokesman said in a brief statement Wednesday that the yachtsmen were being towed to international waters.

A spokeswoman for Sail Bahrain said they were to be met by a representative of the company, who would then tow them to Dubai.

The yacht was on its way from Bahrain to Dubai last Wednesday for an off-shore race when it had a problem with its propeller. It drifted into Iranian waters and was seized by the Revolutionary Guard near the Iranian island of Sirri, which lies near the mouth of the narrow Hormuz Strait off Dubai.

The release was an overture to London, which has been trying to keep the incident from getting tangled up in politics — not only in the rancor between Tehran and the West over Iran's nuclear issue but also the country's own internal postelection turmoil, which has pumped up the leadership's fears of foreign plots.

IRNA's report said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki discussed the matter late Tuesday.

Miliband told reporters in London earlier Tuesday that there was "certainly no question of any malicious intent on the part of these five young people."

"This is a human story ... It's got nothing to do with politics, it's got nothing to do with the nuclear enrichment program," Miliband said. "We are keen this be resolved as soon as possible."