Navy resumes Gulf searches

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The Royal Navy is to restart its anti-smuggling boarding operations in the northern Gulf, almost three weeks after 15 sailors were released by Iran.

Tehran held the eight sailors and seven marines for 13 days after claiming they had strayed into its territorial waters on March 23rd.

But the Ministry of Defence has always insisted the HMS Cornwall personnel were in the Iraqi portion of the Shatt al-Arab waterway.

In a written statement to the House of Commons today, defence secretary Des Browne announced that the navy would resume boarding operations, but with extra safety measures in place.

Mr Browne also announced the details or two independent reviews into the dispute.

"Pending the results of the inquiries set up to identify any lessons we can learn from this incident, we have taken measures, in line with the findings of the initial reviews of procedures, to ensure the risk to boarding operations is minimised," the defence secretary's statement said.

"This will involve an incremental return to full boarding operations in all areas."

The first of the two reviews, to be led by retired Lieutenant General Sir Rob Fulton, now governor of Gibraltar, will investigate the "operational circumstances, consequences and implications of the apprehension by Iranians of the 15 Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel from HMS Cornwall".

And former BBC director of news and current affairs Tony Hall will lead the second, smaller-scale, review examining the decision to allow the 15 sailors to speak to the media upon their release.

Leading Seaman Fare Turney and Able Seaman Arthur Batchelor both sold their stories to the press, prompting condemnation from serving personnel, opposition politicians and grieving soldiers' families.

Mr Browne has already told MPs he "profoundly regretted" allowing the sailors to talk to the press.

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