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Iran Seizes British Naval Vessels

Iran (search) seized three British military patrol boats Monday in the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, Iraq's main link with the Persian Gulf, and eight armed crewmen were detained for entering Iranian territorial waters.

Britain confirmed the seizures and said it was in contact with Iran to resolve the situation.

The waterway that divides Iran and Iraq has long been a source of tension between the neighbors. The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war (search) broke out after then-Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein claimed the entire waterway.

Monday's incident follows a strain in relations after Britain helped draft a resolution rebuking Iran for past nuclear cover-ups at last week's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (search) board of governors.

Iran says its program is aimed only at producing energy, while the United States accuses Tehran of trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran accused Britain, which it had seen as a partner in the investigation into its nuclear activities, of caving in to U.S. pressure on the resolution.

The British Foreign Office said it was told by Iran that eight Royal Navy (search) personnel are being held. "We've asked for full details on who is holding them, where they're being held and for full access to them," the Foreign Office said.

Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iranian naval guards, "acting upon their legal duty," seized the boats and detained the occupants when they entered Iran's territorial waters, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

The Arabic-language Al-Alam television reported the three British boats were seized at about 11 a.m. and that crew members were carrying maps and weapons.

It said the boats were confiscated between the Bahmanshir and Arvand rivers, which would put them in the Shatt-al-Arab waterway, northeast of the Iraqi city of Faw. The broadcast gave no further details.

"Interrogation of those detained will continue until the matter is clarified," Asefi was quoted as saying by the main Persian language TV channel.

The British Defense Ministry said the personnel from the Royal Navy training team based in southern Iraq had been detained while delivering a boat from Umm Qasr (search) to Basra, Iraq, to the new Iraqi Riverine Patrol Service (search).

"The boats are unarmed but the crews were carrying their personal weapons," a statement said.

The Foreign Office said it had asked for details and full access to the detained men.