Iran has broadcast a film of the lone woman among 15 Royal Navy personnel seized in the Gulf last week, in which she says she “obviously trespassed” into Iranian territory.
As the seven sailors and eight Marines were paraded on Iranian state television, Leading Seaman Faye Turney was shown separately, wearing a headscarf and smoking a cigarette.
An apparent recording of the 26-year-old said: “I am Leading Seaman Faye Turney. I come from England. I serve on Foxtrot Nine Nine. I have been in the Navy nine years. I live in England.”
“I was arrested on Friday March 23. Obviously we trespassed into their waters. They were very friendly and very hospitable, very thoughtful, good people. They explained to us why we had been arrested. There was no aggression, no hurt, no harm.They were very, very compassionate.”
The broadcast was accompanied by what was claimed to be a letter from Ms Turney, 26, to her parents, which was released by the Iranian Embassy in London. In the letter, Ms Turney said they had “apparently” gone into Iranian waters and repeated her assurances that was being treated well by her captors.
“We were out in the boats when we were arrested by Iranian forces as we had apparently gone into Iranian waters,” the letter said. “I wish we hadn’t because then I’d be home with you all right now.”
The footage, condemned immediately by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as “completely unacceptable”, was made available at the end of a day of increasingly tense diplomatic gestures. This morning the Ministry of Defence published satellite coordinates which commanders said proved that the personnel were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when they were “ambushed” by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, then told MPs that Britain was immediately freezing all bilateral ties with Iran – except for negotiations directly concerning the 15. “They should not be under any doubt at all about how seriously we regard this act, which is unjustified and wrong,” Mrs Beckett said.
Iran responded by stating that the “first stage” of the investigation into the capture was nearly complete and hinted that Ms Turney could be released as early as this evening. “Today or tomorrow, the lady will be released,” Manouchehr Mottaki, the Foreign Minister, said on the sidelines of an Arab summit in Riyadh.
The sixth day of the hostage crisis began with a briefing by Vice-Admiral Style, Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, who displayed nautical charts and photographs showing the position of the group when they were seized.
Vice-Admiral Style said that their coordinates had been confirmed by the skipper of an Indian-registered merchant vessel that the sailors had just inspected when they were captured.
The Navy chief said that the group were engaged in routine anti-smuggling patrols under a UN Security Council mandate at the time, operating with the authorisation of Baghdad.
He also accused the Iranians of having changed their story over the weekend after being told that the coordinates Tehran initially gave for the incident showed that the patrol boats were in Iraqi waters.
Minutes after the MoD press conference, the Prime Minister told the Commons that Britain was mobilising international support to show Iran how isolated it was. Mr Blair described the seizure as “completely unacceptable, wrong and illegal”.
Responding to a question from David Cameron, the Conservative leader, about the rules of engagement the patrols were operating under, Mr Blair said that the sailors and Marines could have used force in self defence. But he was was quite satisfied that they had taken the right decision in not drawing their arms after being surrounded by six heavily armed Iranian Republic Guard vessels.
“If they had engaged in military combat at the stage, there would undoubtedly have been severe loss of life,” he said.
Mr Blair added by the time the crew of HMS Cornwall realised that the 15 had been detained and a Lynx helicopter dispatched to find them, they were already in Iranian waters – making intervention that much more dangerous.
The vice-admiral said that far from being inside Iranian waters, the two boats were 1.7 nautical miles – almost two land miles – inside the Iraqi part of the Shatt al-Arab waterway, which forms the border between Iran and Iraq.
Their exact postition – 29′ 50.36″ N, 048′ 43.08″E – was confirmed by a Global Positioning System (GPS) on one of the small patrol boats that was displayed on the Cornwall. It was confirmed on a subsequent fly-past of the site.
In a statement to the Commons, Mrs Beckett said that the Government had tried to deal with the crisis through “private, but robust diplomacy”. When the Iranians’ mistake over the coordinates had been established, she had suggested to her Iranian counterpart that the situation “could be easily resolved” by releasing the detained Britons.
But it was now clear that a change of tack was needed. Accordingly, Britain was mobilising diplomatic support to show Iran how isolated it was over the issue. The Foreign Secretary said that she had spoken to various world leaders, including the US Secretary of State, the Turkish Prime Minister and the foreign ministers of both Iraq and Iran.
Mrs Beckett said that the Government had “no doubts about the facts or the legitimacy of our requirements”: that Tehran state where the detainees are being held, grant Britain consular access to them and give details of their release.