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Iraq Transition

Analysis: 'A hot and hostile situation'

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- An Iranian patrol seized 15 British marines and sailors on Friday, sparking a diplomatic incident between the two countries and raising concerns over the fate of the personnel involved.

Mike Critchley, a former British Navy officer and publisher of Warship World magazine, gave CNN his analysis of the situation.

How do you think the captured crew are feeling?

Critchley: Pretty apprehensive I would have thought. They were doubtless expecting to go back on board for an early lunch and now they are ashore in Iran somewhere or other.

What happens next?

Critchley: Well, doubtless as we speak the Iranian ambassador is being called to the Foreign Office to explain himself because the first priority is to get those sailors released. We went through this in 2004 when a similar operation was hijacked by the Iranians and men and equipment were taken to Iran...a few days later, as I am sure you remember, the sailors were released but the boats apparently are now on display in an Iranian museum. What we are seeing today is a repeat of that exercise, except that there are more men involved and they are obviously the top priority to get them back.

What will be the outcome of this incident?

Critchley: I just don't know, is the honest answer to that. Who knows, in a hot and hostile situation like the Middle East where things change on a daily basis, what the outcome will be. You can be absolutely sure that enormous pressure will be brought to bare on the Iranians to release these men who were operating under a United Nations Security Council Resolution as they are, week in and week out. What the outcome of that diplomatic pressure is no one knows at this stage of course.

Who is at fault in this incident?

Critchley: Well, mistakes do get made, obviously, and I understand that the...some of the sea area we are talking about is in fact disputed -- that Iran would say that their border would go in this position, and the Iraqis say somewhere else. So, you know, the whole operation of people are treading on eggshells. Time will decide what the lawyers, you know, conclude on their territorial waters dispute but the bottom line is that the world community, the United Nations, say that what the navy is doing out there is legitimate, its been going on for many many years, until interrupted by an incident like this.

How can the situation be resolved?

Critchley: Well, that would be diplomatic pressure from (the British) government to the Iranian government and doubtless other friendly nations will come on board. But the Royal Navy doesn't carry out these patrols on its own. The Australians are doubtless there, the Americans of course. So, that diplomatic pressure will be brought to bare. And, who knows, other agencies like the Red Cross all those sort of people often get involved to get these people released.


Nick Lambert, commander of the HMS Cornwall, said the boats were on a routine mission.


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


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