The British Royal Navy Personnel Were Spying on Iran: Their Mission was to “Gather Intelligence”

In an interview conducted prior to his capture, but broadcast only after the release of the 15 Royal Navy personnel, Royal Marine Captain Chris Air, told Sky News TV that the object of their mission was to “gather intelligence” on Iran. 

“We sort of gather int (intelligence) as well”

How did they do it? They were, according to Captain Chris Air, gathering intelligence from Iraqi fishing vessels. 

The use of fishing vessels for spying purposes is an age-old method, used extensively during World War II and the Cold war era; MI6 had fishing trawlers used to spy on the Soviet Union; they were also used during the Vietnam war. The Chinese continue to use spy fishing vessels in the South China sea. 

Iranian intelligence is fully familiar with this age-old semi-covert endeavor. 

Here is the full transcript of Captain’s Air’s interview with Sky news, which confirms that the mission was to spy on Iran, in the context of ongoing coalition war preparations.


The Skye News report (emphasis added). 

Captain Chris Air of the Royal Marines revealed to Sky News that he and his colleagues had been gathering intelligence on the Iranians.

Captain Air: “This is what’s called an IPAT – an Interaction patrol whereby we come alongside or even board the fishing Dhows and basically interact with the crew.

“It’s partly a hearts-and-minds type patrol, whereby we’ll come along and speak to the crew, find out if they have any problems and just sort of introduce ourselves, let them know we’re here to protect them, protect their fishing and stop any terrorism and piracy in the area.

“Secondly it’s to gather int (Intelligence). If they do have any information because they’re here for days at a time, they can share it with us whether it’s about piracy or any sort of Iranian activity in the area because obviously we’re right by the buffer zone with Iran

Jonathan Samuels “This Dhow had been robbed by some Iranian soldiers about 3 days ago, they had some money taken off them and apparently it’s happened quite a lot of times in the past so it’s good to gather int on the Iranians.”

Sky Correspondent Jonathan Samuels: Is the captain happy to talk to you?

“Yes he is yeah. They’re generally very compliant and friendly. We have a translator onboard who’s a great help – sort of helps to break the ice – and we’re obviously learning Arabic as well.

“It’s good to help them just get relaxed and it’s a very friendly and de-escalatory approach we adopt.”

JS – Any dangers? “At the moment we haven’t encountered anyone who’s been anything other than compliant (interrupted).

“We are capable of doing non-compliant boardings as well, however I think they’d be a bit stupid to start being aggresive with us because obviously we’ve got seven armed Marines and generally that’s not a problem with us coming aboard because they understand we’re here to help them at the end of the day.”

JS – Any real risks?

“There can be yes, and we’re not complacent about what we do so we make sure that we do take all the necessary security measure before we go jumping on a Dhow. We’ll assess the situation and make sure it’s secure before we come aboard.”  (Source Sky News, 6 April 2007)


Now compare the above account which acknowledges that the Royal Navy mission was spying on Iran, with the prepared statement of Captain Chris Air and Lieutenant Felix Carman, after their “debriefing” and “briefing” at the Royal Marines Base at Chivenor, North Devon.

In this statement they present their mandate as being under UN auspices, unrelated to Iran, “conducting a routine operation, as allowed under a UN mandate”:

Chris Air and Felix Carman Transcript of Statement, Friday April 06, 2007  (emphasis added)


Captain Chris Air: “Yesterday we were reunited with our families after a 14 day ordeal that none of us will forget.

“On arrival at London Heathrow we were given the news that four UK servicemen and a civilian interpreter had been killed in Iraq. We would like to pass on our thoughts and condolences to the families of those who died serving their country.

“We would also like, as a group, to thank the staff of the British Embassy in Tehran and the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence for all their work in securing our release. We understand a great deal of effort has been going on behind the scenes to enable us to be returned to the UK and for that we are very grateful.

“We would also like to thank British Airways and London Heathrow for making our return so comfortable, quick and easy.

“Lastly I would like to thank the very many members of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines who have been working so hard over the last 2 weeks supporting our families and friends and for arranging our return to here.”

Lt Felix Carman: 

“On Friday 23 March I along with 14 of my colleagues were part of a routine boarding patrol. We deployed from HMS Cornwall in two Rigid Inflatable Boats and patrolled into an area south of the Shatt Al Arab waterway. This was meant to be a routine boarding operation and followed approximately 66 similar such boardings over the previous four weeks.

“We approached an unidentified merchant vessel that our supporting helicopter had identified as worth investigation. We carried out a completely compliant boarding with the full cooperation of the Master and crew. The RM secured the vessel and the RN element of the boarding party then arrived and commenced a thorough search of the ship. This was in complete accordance with our UN mandate and as part of an International Coalition.

“We were equipped with Xeres true navigational equipment and hand held GPS for backup. The helicopter in support provided continuous navigational confirmation and we were also linked to HMS Cornwall who were monitoring our exact position at all times. Let me make it absolutely clear, irrespective of what has been said in the past, when we were detained by the IRG we were inside internationally recognised Iraqi territorial waters and I can clearly state we were 1.7 nautical miles from Iranian waters.”

Capt Air

“It was during the boarding that we noticed the helicopter had returned to ‘Mother’, and we started calling the ship on VHF to find out why. A short while later two speed boats were spotted approaching rapidly about 400 metres away.

“I ordered everyone to make their weapons ready and ordered the boarding party to return to the boats. By the time all were back on board, two Iranian boats had come alongside. One officer spoke good English and I explained that we were conducting a routine operation, as allowed under a UN mandate.

“But when we tried to leave, they prevented us by blocking us in. By now it was becoming increasingly clear that they had arrived with a planned intent.

“Some of the Iranian sailors were becoming deliberately aggressive and unstable. They rammed our boat and trained their heavy machine guns, RPGs and weapons on us.

“Another six boats were closing in on us. We realised that our efforts to reason with these people were not making any headway. Nor were we able to calm some of the individuals down.

“It was at this point that we realised that had we resisted there would have been a major fight, one we could not have won with consequences that would have had major strategic impact. We made a conscious decision to not engage the Iranians and do as they asked. They boarded our boats, removed our weapons and steered the boats towards the Iranian shore.”

Lt Carman

“On arrival at a small naval base, we were blindfolded, stripped of all our kit and led to a room where I declared myself as the officer in charge and was introduced to a local commander.

“Two hours later we were moved to a second location and throughout the night were subjected to random interrogations. The questions were aggressive and the handling rough, but it was no worse than that.

“The following morning we were flown to Tehran and transported to a prison where the atmosphere changed completely. We were blindfolded, our hands were bound and we were forced up against a wall. Throughout our ordeal we faced constant psychological pressure.

“Later we were stripped and then dressed in pyjamas. The next few nights were spent in stone cells, approximately 8ft by 6ft, sleeping on piles of blankets. All of us were kept in isolation.

“We were interrogated most nights, and presented with two options. If we admitted we had strayed, we would be on a plane back to the UK soon. If we didn’t we faced up to seven years in prison. We all at one time or another made a conscious decision to make a controlled release of non-operational information.

“We were kept in isolation until the last few nights when we were allowed to gather for a few hours together, in the full glare of Iranian media.

“On day 12 we were taken to a Governmental complex, blindfolded and then given three piece suits to wear. We watched the President’s statement live on TV, and it was only then that we realised we were to be sent home.

“It goes without saying that there was a huge moment of elation. We were made to line up to meet the president, one at a time. My advice to everyone was not to mess this up now – we all wanted to get home.

“Afterwards – and still blindfolded – we were taken back to the hotel and for the first time met with UK representatives including the Ambassador before boarding our flight back to Heathrow.”

Capt Air

“In the short time we have been back we have not been able to see all that has been broadcast or written about our ordeal. We are aware that many people have questioned why we allowed ourselves to be taken in the first place and why we allowed ourselves to be shown by the Iranian authorities on television.

“Let me be absolutely clear, from the outset it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option. Had we chosen to do so then many of us would not be standing here today. Of that I have no doubts.

“The Iranian Navy did not turn up lightly armed; they came with intent, heavy weapons, and very quickly surrounded us. We were equipped, armed and had rules of engagement for boarding operations within Iraqi water.

“We were not prepared to fight a heavily armed force who it is our impression came out deliberately into Iraqi waters to take us prisoner. Reasoning with the Iranians was our only option. We tried. We did our utmost to de-escalate the situation, but our words fell on deaf ears. They had come with a clear purpose and were never going to leave without us.

“The Iranians are not our enemies. We are not at war with them. Our rules of engagement at that time stated that we could only use lethal force if we felt that we were in imminent danger of a loss of life. By the time the true intent of the Iranians had become apparent – and we could have legitimately fought back – it was too late for action.

“We were completely surrounded, and in addition to the loss of life, any attempted to fight back would caused a major international incident and an escalation of tension within the region. Our team had seconds to make a decision and we believe that we made the right decision. We still believe this was the right thing to do.”

Lt Carman

“Some have questioned why HMS Cornwall did not provide greater protection for the team. HMS Cornwall is there to guard the vital oil platforms and command the coalition forces. She is also the platform by where boarding teams can launch from and patrol out. Not only should she not have been closer to us but she physically could not have been, the water is simply too shallow. We are all immensely proud to be members of her crew and look forward to rejoining her.

“I would just like to stress three points at this stage:

 “When taken by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard we were well inside Iraqi territorial waters.

 “The detention was clearly illegal and not a pleasant experience.

 “We as a group held out for as long as we though appropriate. We then complied up to a point with our captors.

“We remain Immensely proud of our team. Their courage and dignity throughout their illegal detention was in line with the best tradition of the service.

“Throughout our ordeal we have tried to remain very much a team. No one individual should be singled out but we are now very aware of the special treatment singled out to Faye Turney. Faye is a young mother and wife. She volunteered to join the Royal Navy and is very proud to continue to serve. She is a highly professional operator and we are incredibly proud to have her as part of our team.

“The fact she is a women has been used as a propaganda tool by Iran. This is deeply regrettable. She is coming to terms with what has happened to her and not only Faye and her family but all of us are finding the press focus very uncomfortable and difficult and specifically request that you give all of us the space and privacy we need when we return to our homes.” (BBC, 6 April 2007)

Iranian TV  News Report

It should be noted that Captain Chris Air’s admission of spying in the Sky News TV Interview is consistent with the Iranian statement at the outset of the “hostage crisis” which was broadcast on Iran’s National News Network on March 29:  

[Presenter] An Iranian navy official has said: “According to the information recorded on the British sailors’ GPS, their entrance and stay in Iranian waters is definite.”

Colonel Setareh, commander of Arvand Coastguard Base: “In the name of God. On Friday 23 March 2007, two British boats intruded Iranian water borders. Ultimately, these sailors were arrested on this spot [shows the spot on a map].

“After reading the information on their navigation equipment – the GPS seized from them – it was revealed that they had already intruded water borders of the Islamic Republic of Iran on these spots marked on the map [indicates position].

“They were ultimately stopped and arrested on this spot. [indicates position. Video then shows Iranian boats approaching British boats. Voices of coastguards can be heard as saying: “Yes, they are British”.]

“Bearing in mind that British naval boats had previously violated Iranian waters in 2004 and had given commitment in the same year not to repeat this again, they have been handed over to relevant officials for further investigation and the issue is being studied.”

(Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, Tehran, in Persian 1503 gmt 29 Mar 07, translated by BBC Monitoring.)

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About the author:

Michel Chossudovsky is an award-winning author, Professor of Economics (emeritus) at the University of Ottawa, Founder and Director of the Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), Montreal, Editor of Global Research.  He has taught as visiting professor in Western Europe, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Latin America. He has served as economic adviser to governments of developing countries and has acted as a consultant for several international organizations. He is the author of eleven books including The Globalization of Poverty and The New World Order (2003), America’s “War on Terrorism” (2005), The Global Economic Crisis, The Great Depression of the Twenty-first Century (2009) (Editor), Towards a World War III Scenario: The Dangers of Nuclear War (2011), The Globalization of War, America's Long War against Humanity (2015). He is a contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.  His writings have been published in more than twenty languages. In 2014, he was awarded the Gold Medal for Merit of the Republic of Serbia for his writings on NATO's war of aggression against Yugoslavia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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