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"Incident" reported in Gulf waterway

Reuters | March 23, 2007

British forces said on Friday there had been "an incident" in the northern Gulf after an Iraqi fisherman reported seeing up to seven British or American military personnel being seized by an Iranian ship.

"There has been an incident somewhere in the north of the Persian Gulf," British military spokesman Major David Gell said in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, without elaborating.

He said he did not know whether any British or American servicemen were involved.

The fisherman said the incident took place early on Friday in the Shatt al-Arab waterway that marks the southern stretch of Iraq's border with Iran. His account could not be immediately confirmed.

Iranian Foreign Ministry officials were unavailable for comment,

The fisherman, who asked not be named, said six or seven foreign military personnel were on two small boats that stopped to check Iranian ships in the Siban area of the waterway, near the al-Faw peninsula that leads into the northern Gulf.

When they boarded one ship, at least two Iranian vessels appeared on the scene and the military personnel were detained. There was no sign of any violent confrontation he said.

He said the merchant ships had stopped in a narrow area of the waterway where smaller boats normally pull alongside to take on board goods. The fisherman said British and American forces patrolled the area and frequently searched the ships.

Earlier, an Iraqi sailor on a merchant ship told Reuters he had witnessed the incident but later said he had only heard about it.

Iraq and Iran have a long history of disputes along the waterway. Iran briefly seized three British naval patrol boats in the area in June 2004.

In January 2006, the Iranian coastguard stopped three Iraqi vessels Tehran said had crossed into Iranian waters, prompting Iraqi officials to accuse Iran of taking hostage nine Iraqis working on the vessels.

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