Navy chief defends captured crew

Captured crew arriving in the UK

The crew returned to the UK on Thursday after 13 days in captivity

The Royal Navy’s head has defended the actions of 15 British personnel seized by Iran and UK operations in the Gulf.First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band said the crew “reacted extremely well in very difficult circumstances”.

Admiral Band also said British boarding operations being carried out in the Gulf had been sanctioned by the UN.

Six of the 15 personnel, who returned to the UK on Thursday 13 days after being captured in the northern Gulf, will speak to the press at 1500 BST.

Iran claimed they had strayed into its waters, which the UK denied.

‘Extraordinary act’

Admiral Band told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This incident was a most extraordinary act conducted in those waters.

“I think our people have reacted extremely well in very difficult circumstances.”

He added: “The boarding operations taking place that morning in the northern Gulf were sanctioned by the United Nations under specific resolutions.

HMS Cornwall

The crew were stationed aboard HMS Cornwall

“They were being conducted under operational procedures with the coalition of US, UK and Australian forces.”

Admiral Band said UK boarding operations had stopped for the time being but coalition operations were continuing under British command.

The MoD said the UK would continue to ask Iran to return its two captured boats used by the 15 sailors and marines, but he held out little hope of success.

The freed personnel were helicoptered to the Royal Marine base at Chivenor in north Devon on Thursday, after arriving on a British Airways plane at Heathrow in London.

Earlier, they spoke of their happiness at being back in the UK and reunited with relatives.

Lt Felix Carman said the group had been “completely overwhelmed” by the goodwill they had received when they arrived back at Chivenor.

CAPTURED NAVY PERSONNEL

Chris Air, 25, from Altrincham in Cheshire

Mark Banks, 24, of Lowestoft, Suffolk

Paul Barton, of Southport, Merseyside

Arthur Batchelor, 20, of Plymouth

Felix Carman, 26, of Swansea

Gavin Cavendish

Christopher Coe, 31, of Huddersfield

Dean Harris, 24, of Carmarthen, west Wales

Andrew Henderson

Simon Massey

Danny Masterton, 26, of Muirkirk, Ayrshire

Adam Sperry, 22, of Wigston, near Leicester

Nathan Summers, of Hayle, Cornwall

Joe Tindell, 21, of south London

Faye Turney, 26, originally from Shropshire

Profiles of navy personnel

Two versions of events

Several said they had been well treated while in Iran, but since their return there have been suggestions some may have been held in solitary confinement.

Lt Col Andy Price, who met the group at the airport, said there had been “times when they were left alone”, but refused to go into further detail.

Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said: “They did exactly as they should have done from start to finish… and we’re extremely proud of them.”

Penny Banks, who was reunited with her son, Lance Corporal Mark Banks, said: “We are delighted to have him back – it was nice to hold him again.”

The MoD said the freed personnel had roast chicken and roast beef before enjoying drinks with their loved ones on Thursday.

‘No deal’

The navy has begun a review of the circumstances leading to the capture of the personnel.

Rules of engagement, equipment and procedures will all be analysed, the MoD said.

In a press conference outside Downing Street, Tony Blair said he was “glad” the crew had been returned “safe and unharmed”.

He said “no deal” had been done with the Iranians to secure their release, despite claims by Iran that it received a written apology from Britain on Tuesday.

And he contrasted the safe return of the Britons with four soldiers killed in Basra in Iraq on the same day.

The US welcomed Iran’s decision to free the servicemen, but said the positive move would not ease tensions over its nuclear programme.

HAVE YOUR SAY

The UK government and its forces have been made to look like total fools

Bob, Dundee

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It emerged on Thursday that in a television interview recorded before their capture, Capt Chris Air, had said one purpose of patrols in the area was to gather intelligence on “any sort of Iranian activity”.

In the joint Five News and Sky News interview, recorded on 13 March but not broadcast until after the 15 had been released, he acknowledged that he was operating close to the buffer zone between Iranian and Iraqi waters, adding: “It’s good to gather intelligence on the Iranians.”

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