Defence Secretary accused of misleading Parliament over capture of British sailors in the Gulf

The Defence Secretary has been accused of misleading Parliament over the capture of 15 British sailors and Marines in the Gulf last spring as it emerged that Iran has kept £1 million of seized military equipment.

The Conservatives said that Des Browne was “less than frank” after The Times disclosed Ministry of Defence papers showing that the Britons were seized in disputed waters, not Iraqi territory.

The MoD also rejected an application under the Freedom of Information Act to provide details of the location.

Mr Browne has told the Commons repeatedly that the patrolling Britons, who were held for a fortnight and paraded on Iranian television, were seized boarding a vessel in “Iraqi waters”.
An internal MoD paper released to The Times blames the incident on the lack of an agreed border in the waters between Iraq and Iran.

The seizure occurred, the top-level document states, because the US-led coalition created a notional sea boundary but omitted to tell the Iranians where it was. Revolutionary Guard patrol boats were crossing this line three times a week, the partially censored document shows.

The MoD has always insisted that the Britons were 1.7 nautical miles on the Iraqi side of that boundary. However, last summer The Times requested information “concerning the location and position of the search party”. Specifically, the request was for information from a technical device that communicated the boarding party’s position to the mother ship, HMS Cornwall.

In the past week the MoD gave its final response to this request: no information is being released because it would disclose operational tactics, routines and capability.

Des Browne ‘misled MPs over seizure of British sailors in the Gulf’ (The Times, 18 April 2008)