The British crew captured in the Gulf had been gathering intelligence on the Iranians from local fishermen. Royal Marine Captain Chris Air divulged the details to British television, just days before he was seized by Iranian forces.
“We sort of gather ‘int’ as well, if they do have any information, because they are out here for days at a time. They can share it with us – whether it is about any piracy or any Iranian activity in the area because obviously we are right near the buffer zone with Iran.”
Britain insists intelligence gathering falls within its UN-authorized mission.
Defence Secretary Des Browne said: “The UN mandate would clearly empower the military as part of the task force to gather information about the environment in which they are working. It is very important to have that information because that information then informs the way in which we keep our people secure as they work in it.”
TV bosses withheld the footage while the sailors were in Iran.
Ex-British Foreign Office official John Williams gave this analysis. “There must have been, all the way through this difficult episode, a temptation amongst some of the hardliners to use any pretext. So if they had heard the word ‘intelligence’ used on British television, then they could have taken it and made this a much more difficult situation to resolve.”
As the Royal Navy probes exactly what happened to the 15-strong crew, Britain has suspended boarding operations in the Gulf and is reviewing all procedures.