The Shatt Al Arab Waterway Event

About: 15 UK sailors detained by Iran


Event started Friday March 23

Watch British Commodore describe the event.

Read the Wikipedia article: 2007 Iranian seizure of Royal Navy personnel
The United Kingdom says the sailors, 14 men and one woman, were on a routine anti-smuggling operation the area. In accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1723, they had boarded a vessel inside Iraqi territorial waters suspected of smuggling automobiles. British officials stated that Iranian boats surrounded the sailors, arrested them, and escorted them to an Iranian port at gunpoint.

You can see this map and navigate it with google earth by clicking here.  It shows the area of operation of the HMS Cornwall and my conjectured location for the incident.

Saturday March 24
source: Fars News Agency
Alireza Afshar confirmed the arrest of 15 British marines by the naval force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps within the Iranian territorial waters on Friday and added that the said individuals are under prosecution and have confessed that they have aggressed against the waters of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Also related is this claim by Tehran that British Marines were fully aware of their presence in the Iranian waters and the recordings by devices in the British vessels confirm the fact.  

UN passess Resolution 1747 backing more sanctions on Iran
source: bbc
The UN Security Council has unanimously voted in favour of new sanctions against Iran.  ... The new sanctions block Iranian arms exports and freeze the assets of individuals and companies involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programmes.

Update March 28:  UK reveals Iran dispute evidence
Listen to the press conference here.

Update April 4: Mahmoud pins medal of courage on commander of Revolutionary Guards and releases the 15 British sailors
source: CNN
Ahmadinejad announced the amnesty at the end of a lengthy news conference on Wednesday in which he said the 15 detainees had violated Iran's territorial waters, calling their release "a gift to the British people."

"I declare that the people of Iran and the government of Iran -- in full power to place on trial the military people -- to give amnesty and pardon to these 15 people and I announce their freedom and their return to the people of Britain," Ahmadinejad told a news conference.
 

We await news of how this came about ...

Tags

  1. shatt al arab
  2. iran
  3. events
  4. maps
  5. google earth
  6. item 6510

Comments


Seth says
Bertie Poole 2007-03-31 02:04:44 6510
Does anyone know the depth of water the merchant ship was in?
Well i haven't seen any deapth charts of the area.  But i think we can surmize that, if this was a relitively large ship, and if it was heading up the river, then it was in the deepest part of the channel flowing out of the Shatt Al-Arab.   I have read reports that, outside of the channel, what you have there are shallow mud flats ... especially at low tide.  If we know where the channel runs, then it seems to me that we can surmize the most likely location of the ship.

Seth says
seth 2007-03-24 12:17:00 6510
M 2007-03-24 11:51:36 6510
seth 2007-03-24 10:02:58 6510
Mark, can you click on the http://fastblogit.com/media/shatt-al-arab.kmz file and ok the download and see if it shows correctly in Google Earth?  You may need to use firefox, i can't get it to work in IE. 
IE wants to download it as a zip & FF downloads it correctly as a kmz, whateve that filetype is. Both cases blow up my Google Earth when I try to open them.

It opens correctly on mine.   What is the error or how does it blow up?  What version of Google Earth do you have?  I actually want to get this to work.
PS here is mine:


Mark de LA says
This article shows there is more than the UN sanctions to consider.  Any time the coalition captures Iranian insurgents, Iran captures some of the coalition. Recently there were some Iranians that were captured by the US/Iraqis in northern Iraq - story here.  I suspect these are more likely the causes.
 

Mark de LA says
FYI, this article has info on what may raise the price of oil more than the shenanigans in the gulf.

Seth says
M 2007-03-24 12:23:08 6510
You may also consider Why Iran Seized the British Marines by Time Inc. which is a fair accessment of the geo-politics of the area.
Yes thanks.  I intend to open up a new item to track intentions and scripts where 4222 will rear its ugly head again.  Ayatollah Khamenei's intention may be quite simple and direct, raise the price of oil so that he can better fund his nuclear moves and ease the economic bind that his country is now experiencing.

Seth says
It seems to me that if the ship was bound for an Iranian port, then it would have steered in Iranian waters ... on the other hand if it were bound for an Iraqi port, say Al Basrah, then it woud have steered on the Iraqi side of the channel.  So where was the ship headed? Will ever get the geo coordinates of the cpature?  Can anyone find the geo coordinates of the disputed boundaries?

Seth says
M 2007-03-24 15:37:52 6510
seth 2007-03-24 14:50:02 6510
Ok i updated to the latest version (4.0.2737) and republished the map exactly where the last one was.  Could you try it again?
It appears to work now.  BTW, for truth & accuracy we don't really know the exact coordinates where they were captured, do we? Secondly, what is not mentioned here, but is mentioned elsewhere is that Iran & Iraq have an ongoing dispute over whose territorial waters these are .
Thanks.   I put a push pin where i think the event occured.  Of course we dont't know yet nor can i find exact documentation on the boundary dispute (see my comment above).  It seems to me that Iran can not fairly claim that they own the waterway since it looks like it must feed the Iraqi port of Al Basrah.  I would assume that the practical boundary goes directly down the center of the navagatable part of the waterway.  Perhaps we will find out.  Perhaps it won't matter much as the event may (or may not) take on a larger significance.

Mark de LA says
seth 2007-03-24 15:27:15 6510
It seems to me that if the ship was bound for an Iranian port, then it would have steered in Iranian waters ... on the other hand if it were bound for an Iraqi port, say Al Basrah, then it woud have steered on the Iraqi side of the channel.  So where was the ship headed? Will ever get the geo coordinates of the cpature?  Can anyone find the geo coordinates of the disputed boundaries?
Well it wasn't a ship it was a group of patrol crafts.
Where they were headed has no bearing upon the situation. Where the were does! Where they were captured does. The CNN video is pretty good on the subject. What they were doing was presumably on a UN mission to prevent smuggling.

Seth says

Is this the base where the Iranian came from ?

Mark de LA says
I am also curious about a UK frigate that keeps showing up in various pictures about the incident. If it was around, and the patrol boats need a base of some kind, then why did it not come to the assistance of it's patrol boats?  I did similar duty in 'Nam, but we always had help close by.

Seth says

I think you misunderstoon ... i was refering to the Merchant ship, not the British patrols. The picture on the left is from your cnn video.  I agree where they were captured is what is in dispute.  I was just trying to guess the most likely position of the Merchant ship based upon where it was headed.


Mark de LA says
source: ... Howell Times and Transport

The Britons were seized in an area where the boundaries of Iraqi and Iranian waters have long been disputed. A 1975 treaty set the center of the Shatt al-Arab


Seth says
M 2007-03-24 17:03:20 6510
Well, that is definitely NOT a merchant ship or any kind of ship at all.  However, in 'Nam we identified a vessel similar in size that had about a million rounds of ammo & enough rice to feed several squads of vc... so smuggling on that scale is still a concern.  The UN probably isn't concerned with that kind of smuggling though.
I corrected the "Iranian dhow" claim on the Wikipedia article and asked for evidence in the discussion

Seth says
source: The Wikipedia artile on this incident describes the "merchant ship" as follows
"they had boarded an Iranian dhow inside Iraqi territorial waters"

I don't know where Wikipedia got that "dhow" description or that the vessel was Iranian, but it sure looks to me that such a vessel would not be very good at smuggling automobiles.

Seth says
source: Asharq al-Awsat
"We were informed by Iraqi fishermen after they had returned from sea that there were British gunboats in an area that is out of Iraqi control," Brig. Gen. Hakim Jassim told AP Television News in the southern city of Basra.
... I saw this reported exactly opposite somewhere else, but i forgot where.

Mark de LA says
seth 2007-03-24 18:02:27 6510
source: Asharq al-Awsat
"We were informed by Iraqi fishermen after they had returned from sea that there were British gunboats in an area that is out of Iraqi control," Brig. Gen. Hakim Jassim told AP Television News in the southern city of Basra.
... I saw this reported exactly opposite somewhere else, but i forgot where.
Maybe this one.

Seth says
M 2007-03-25 09:46:46 6510
The UN sanctions on Iran are irrelevant to their taking UK sailors & marines hostage. Why is not that considered off topic ?
Because it puts the event in the context of other events that happened around the same time. Ahmadinejad cancelling his trip is another event  that was probably directly related. Think about reading this item in 5 years ... would you not want to know that those two other events happened within a day of this one?

Seth says
On 25 March, The Sunday Times quoted an unidentified website whom it said was run by supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that the sailors and marines would be indicted for espionage in an Iranian court. Espionage is punishable by death in Iran. The Sunday Times also quoted another unidentified person that the Iranians would release the personnel if the United States Armed Forces release the five members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard they had captured earlier this year in Iraq.

Mark de LA says
also url http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=1&id=8425

Seth says
source: March 25 bbc
The Britons, who include one woman, were seized at gunpoint by forces said to be Iranian Revolutionary Guards, after inspecting an Iraqi boat and returning to their two small boats to head back to the Cornwall.
This is the first time i have seen this vessel refered to by bbc as an "Iraqi boat".   This article also has other diplomatic happenings re the event.

Seth says
M 2007-03-25 10:45:24 6510
Why do you think it significant? It would be more significant if it were Iranian wouldn't it ?
Yes a finding that it was an Iranian boat would lead me to suspect that the whole incident was staged by Iran.  Also it might indicate that it was more likeley that the boat was in Iranian waters. Finding the opposite (that it is an Iraqi boat) tends to refute that suspicion and indicates to me that the boat was probalby in Iraqi waters.  Identifying that vessel is part of knowing what actually happened.

Seth says
Re proving where the event happened (did i put the pin in the map correctly)  We  have  Commodore Nick Lambert, Commodore of the HMS Cornwall who said on camera   "... we know that a helicopter reported that they saw the boats being moved up the Shatt Al-Arab Waterway towards an Iranian base up there ...".  But that does not imply that the capture happened there.  Then we have the map of the area of operations of the HMS Cornwall , and then we have the fisherman who claim they witnessed it in the mouth of waterway.

Seth says
Re the location of the event:  The boundary between the territory of Iraq and Iran is given by the median course of the Shat El-Arab waterway according to ...
source: Wikipedia: Algiers Agreement (1975)
Demarcate their river boundaries according to the thalweg line [meaning the median course of the Shatt-El-Arab waterway].
...
At the end of the inconclusive war both sides agreed to respect the terms of the 1975 agreement.
Assuming that (1) the area of operation of the HMS Cornwall was the same demarkation, and (2) that the intercept did happen withing the area of operation of the HMS Cornwall, and (3) that the helocpters observed the sailors being escorted up the Shat El-Arab to an Iranian base that i have correctly marked on the map to the left, then i have placed the push pin accurately.


Seth says
A Richfield Schefiled, boundary expert, discusses the demarcation of the waters between Iraq and Iran; but provides no reason for me to move my push pin.

Mark de LA says
seth 2007-03-26 16:13:31 6510
A Richfield Schefiled, boundary expert, discusses the demarcation of the waters between Iraq and Iran; but provides no reason for me to move my push pin.
I would suspect that the HMS Cornwall would have a GPS coordinates of either or both the ship/? which was being borded or the bording party boats which did it. I wonder why that hasn't leaked out yet ?

Seth says
M 2007-03-27 10:08:26 6510
seth 2007-03-26 16:13:31 6510
A Richfield Schefiled, boundary expert, discusses the demarcation of the waters between Iraq and Iran; but provides no reason for me to move my push pin.
I would suspect that the HMS Cornwall would have a GPS coordinates of either or both the ship/? which was being borded or the bording party boats which did it. I wonder why that hasn't leaked out yet ?
The reason might be gleaned in why Tony Blair says  "We have been clearly stating that we are utterly certain that the personnel were in Iraqi waters. We so far have not made explicit why we know that, because we don't want to escalate this." Apparently telling the world where it actually happened could be interperted as an agressive stance.  And I suspect that the Royal Navy is better at keeping secrets than the US congress.

Seth says
Transcribing from the press release:

29 degrees
50.36 minutes
north

048 degrees
43.08 minutes
east




Seth says
For the record, i guessed the position 5.74 miles closer to the mouth of the river.

Seth says
I overlay the latest map from BBC on Google earth and uploaded a new .kmz map file

The problem i have with the BBC map is that the best match of the coast line that i can find puts the published geo cordinates of the incident closer to the 1st Iranian claim than it does to the Merchant vessel.   This is probably due to approximations in drawing the BBC map and to my errors in matching it to the sattelite map.   Can anyone else do any better?

Seth says
M 2007-03-28 11:19:30 6510
They are 2 different kinds of maps. Why would you think they would match.  The coordinates are the ones that should be valid.  One should look for the coordinates of the operating areas of the parties involved.
Well, yes, we are looking "for the coordinates of the" territorial waters, both those agreed upon and those in dispute.   That is, as it were, the bottom line.

My interest in the cartology of the BBC map is to gage it's accuracy and perhaps to discover extra details about the incident that have not been explicitidly reported.   The Google Earth image overlay tool has been designed for just that kind of study and it works quite well.  It doesn't matter that they are "different kinds of maps", i have even matched a satellite image of California today to it as an island.  That kind of match shows well what was cartological fantasy in the 17th century and what was based upon observation.  I have already published a finding in 6447 and soon i will publish a more detailed flash study of the same map.  When we do this kind of exercise we are testing the skill of the cartographer and the skill of the matcher (in this case me).  While the truth of the British claim should rest on geocordinates, the wiggle room in the maps we have at the moment can still put the sailors within Iranian territorial waters.  Bear in mind that the boundary agreements are probably expressed in distances from coastlines and river boundaries; and those, as you know, change from time to time. 

Seth says
The Iranian media is having a field day on what a former British ambassador has said.
source: Former British Ambassador Craig Murray via the Huffington Post

"The British Government has published a map showing the coordinates of the incident, well within an Iran/Iraq maritime border. The mainstream media and even the blogosphere has bought this hook, line and sinker.

"But there are two colossal problems.

"A) The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force.
But this cuts both ways; if there is no agreement on the border of the territorial waters, then Iran cannot claim that the British invaded it. 
"B) Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land. Go on, print out the map and measure it. Which underlines the point that the British produced border is not a reliable one.
Ok, i did measure it, and yes the incident was closer to Iran's land than Iraq's (see picture).  On the other hand the 12 mile limit does not work where two countries meet.  So what is the traditional way to draw the sea boarders in these cases? 

But if you use the rule of the closest land, then the Iraqi oil platforms are within Iranian waters too. 



Seth says

The Chart from the British Minister of Defense fits better with the Google sattelite images.  Also makes their coordinates hit the bullseye.


Mark de LA says
You are trying to inject rationality where there is none! Geometrically, one could distinguish the line of demarcation out into the sea by a line perpendicular to the tangent at the point where the 2 countries meet & extend that 12 miles out to sea. After that it is international waters. Where the tangent goes is muddied up by a delta where the canal meets the sea. Such things are normally marked by buoys to keep ships from colliding by separating the port & starboard sides of the channel. 


Seth says
M 2007-03-29 11:16:03 6510
You are trying to inject rationality where there is none! Geometrically, one could distinguish the line of demarcation out into the sea by a line perpendicular to the tangent at the point where the 2 countries meet & extend that 12 miles out to sea. After that it is international waters. Where the tangent goes is muddied up by a delta where the canal meets the sea. Such things are normally marked by buoys to keep ships from colliding by separating the port & starboard sides of the channel.


Well, yes, your way to draw the border is rational, but perhaps not practical.  It would place both the incident and the Iraqi oil platform clearly within Iranian waters. 



Seth says

Well i think it is safe to say that the British claim to  their boundary drawing can be legitimately disputed.  Was their boundary claim published anywhere else prior to the incident?


Mark de LA says
M 2007-03-29 11:58:25 6510
Well, I can see that that wouldn't work the way I was thinking. The tangent was to be at the point where the two countries share the middle of the channel. If there were no channel, then it would be at the point where their lands meet.  Bisection still doesn't do the job regardless of the current dispute.  IMHO, rationality aside (as I previously said) it has to be negotiated. Either the previous agreement, reversed by Saddam, should be in force or they need to have a war to decide what is what!

Essentially, I was trying to bisect the last direction of the waterway as it joined the gulf.

Seth says
M 2007-03-29 12:22:24 6510
Essentially, I was trying to bisect the last direction of the waterway as it joined the gulf.
Problem is that it is ambiguous where "it joins the gulf".  The British line loosley tracks the waterway deep into the gulf, but a tighter tracking might put the incident in Iranian territory.

I think there is enough wiggel room here for the Brits to say:  "Well ... yes this line can be reasonabley disputed ...  we had no hostile intent to Iran,  so let's agree to draw a practical line and would you please just return our sailors".  But if they keep to a hard line and try to imply that it has legitimacy in international law, me thinks they are over stepping the bounds of credulity.

Mark de LA says
I can ask the same about the Iranian's line drawing. Did they publish theirs before the incident ? Taking hostages is an act of War ! Straying into waters ambiguously claimed on a UN mission is not. Iran has a history of taking hostages like our embassy during the failed Carter administration.


Seth says
M 2007-03-29 15:11:07 6510
I can ask the same about the Iranian's line drawing. Did they publish theirs before the incident ?

What Iranian line drawing?  I haven't seen it.


Btw, I can't match this chart shown on Iranian TV to the shape of the coastline around the mouth of the Shatt Al-Arab. As far as i can tell there is no island at the mouth of the river, nor is there any round gulf south of it. 

Mark de LA says
That's kinda my question. What was the agreement before the incident.  All countries claim at least 12 miles of water off their land territory as their own. China claims more (100 mi?), but in disputes 12 is it!

Seth says
source: International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham Uninersity

IBRU has verified that the position is just under 1.7 nautical miles southwest of the southern terminal point of the land boundary agreed by Iran and Iraq in 1975, which was defined as being located at the intersection of the thalweg of the Shatt al Arab waterway and

Seth says


I post this chart of the price of light sweet crude from NYMEX for the benifit of those who think that this crisis is not primarialy about the price of oil.  Notice the recent steep increase started around March 23.   With a bit of research and math you could calculate how much this abduction has been worth to the Mullahs of Iran.




Mark de LA says
Well, if that is their purpose they seem to have muzzled Ahmadinejad  according to this morning's newspapers.  Anyway, it could backfire if things escalate. Iran's only gasoline refinery is near there & could be taken out as well as a few of their oil fields. Or simply, a blockade could throttle the tap going out. It's more a reaction to Iran's increasing isolation because of the UN sanctions, IMHO.


Mark de LA says
seth 2007-03-30 13:19:14 6510
M 2007-03-30 12:10:30 6510
Iran's only gasoline refinery is near there & could be taken out as well as a few of their oil fields.
Well so are the fields of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia not to mention those of Kuait and the rest of the oil rich emeriti along the Western coast of the gulf ... then too there are those pesky Iranian rockets sitting on Lakar island in the Strait of Hormuz that is in easy range of oil tankers slaking Britian's unquenchable thirst for oil.  So me thinks that your off the cuff term "could be taken out" begs for some small measure of qualification.

Yep, that's why the UK is bending over backwards to avoid true escalation.

Seth says
source: Iran's Acting Ambassador to Ankara Gholam Reza Baqeri Moqaddam via IRNA
"What they should do is clear. The UK should admit that it has breached Iran's territorial waters and apologize for this breach as this will help settle the case. Otherwise, an expert body should be set up to investigate the opposing claims and whose decisions the two sides should accept in deciding their dispute,"
Setting up an expert body to decide the dispute is certainly the rational thing to do.  If i were Tony Blair, i would give it a go.


Bertie Poole says
Does anyone know the depth of water the merchant ship was in?

Mark de LA says
Admiralty Charts 3842 or 3843 should have the info.  Lots of places sell navigation charts. This was my google. I am not concerned enough to buy one though!.


Seth says
M 2007-03-31 09:24:39 6510
Admiralty Charts 3842 or 3843 should have the info.  Lots of places sell navigation charts. This was my google. I am not concerned enough to buy one though!.


Wow 3842 is a find .  It shows substantually the map that is behind the Iranian briefer that i showed above and explains why i couldnt match it with the sattelite Google Earth.  Perhaps, in the interest of cartology, i should take another stab at it. 

Do you know the deapth definitions of the various colors shown on the Admiralty chart?

Mark de LA says
M 2007-03-31 12:11:50 6510
M 2007-03-31 11:22:40 6510
Nope, someone would have to buy the charts - it's not standard IMHO.
More map-stuff on the boundary agreement: may be redundant.
The treaty signed in 13 June, 1975 mentioned here is here -OR- go for the google.

Seth says
M 2007-03-31 12:29:59 6510
The treaty signed in 13 June, 1975 mentioned here is here
Thanks, i needed that

Seth says
I think that an analysis of the latest videos of the officers captured allegedly confessing provides direct evidence of Iranian scripting.  Would naval officers really refer to their  ship, The HMS Cornwall,  as "coalition warship oxford 99" or as "Frigite foxtrot 99" ?   In an offical briefing would a captain be so imprecise as to refer to an area that he was patrolling as "the area around this Persian gulf"  ?   Then too, Capt Chris Air saying,  "apparently at this point here from their maps on the GPS they've shown us - which is inside Iranian territorial waters" , is saying that according to their maps, we were in their waters; rather than confessing that he was in their waters. 

Mark de LA says
Maybe I was right in the first place about the Arbil event. See this UK Independent article. The tone is more conspiratorial & anti-US than showing a direct link, but it is an interesting read.


Mark de LA says
M 2007-04-02 21:55:11 6510
Maybe I was right in the first place about the Arbil event. See this UK Independent article. The tone is more conspiratorial & anti-US than showing a direct link, but it is an interesting read.

Apparently Jalal Sharafi (mentioned in the Independentwas released today.

Mark de LA says
IMHO this is the most amazing quote & comes from the UK's  Guardian Unlimited
source: ... "On the occasion of the birthday of the great prophet (Muhammad) ... and for the occasion of the passing of Christ, I say the Islamic Republic government and the Iranian people - with all powers and legal right to put the soldiers on trial - forgave those 15,'' he said, referring to the Muslim prophet's birthday on March 30 and the Easter holiday.
...
it brings to mind the idea that the whole event was mostly a PR move.

Mark de LA says
& more at Foxnews:

Iraqi Twist to Iran Crisis

Baghdad claims it's negotiating handover of 5 Iranians held by U.S. to 'help in the release of the British sailors and marines'


Mark de LA says
I've kinda wondered what the name Shatt al Arab means.  Accordingly Wikipedia gives it here.
source: ... Shatt al-Arab (Arabic: ?? ?????, literally Coast of the Arabs)
... That's a bit confusing since Iran doesn't really consider themselves as Arabs, but Persians.  That may explain that they call it Arvandrud. I guess I was confused by the first word in the former phrase.



Mark de LA says
More from DEBKAfile - there is a split in the Iran as well on the issue.

Mark de LA says
And now an amusing perspective on the release:


louis vuitton says
Awesome coverage! Thanks!

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