ADF: Iranian story true, but two years ago

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A simple 'Fuck Off' can work wonders.

AUSTRALIAN sailors did repel Iranian gunboats in the Persian Gulf, but it was 2-½ years ago, and it wasn't at the expense of their British counterparts' reputation.

THE Australian Defence Force moved today to clarify a report by a BBC reporter who said an Australian navy boarding crew in the Gulf repelled an Iranian gunboat which threatened them not long before 15 British sailors were captured in a similar incident, in March this year.

A defence spokesman said today the incident involving the Australians, a four-hour confrontation after they boarded a grounded cargo ship, occurred in December 2004.

Commodore Steve Gilmore said the incident began when Australian sailors were leaving the cargo vessel, which was near the Iraq-Iran maritime border.

He said an Iranian Revolutionary Guard gunboat moved close by and its armed personnel made "very overt gestures".

The boarding party commander ordered the Australians to reboard the cargo ship.

"He got his boarding party back on to the ship and established a very credible and appropriate defensive position," Commodore Gilmore said in Canberra.

"(They) began what I think is very unique in the Australian way and that's the capacity to negotiate, to introduce extra weighpoints if you like, in the continuum of force," he said.

Another four Iranian military boats carrying rocket-propelled grenade launchers arrived to reinforce their colleagues in the next 45 minutes, Commodore Gilmore said.

"Over a tense period of four hours the boarding party was eventually successfully extracted by helicopter back to (HMAS) Adelaide.

Commodore Gilmore said the determined, no-nonsense approach of the Australians effectively managed the situation.

The capture of a British crew by Iran in March developed into a major diplomatic incident before their release was negotiated.

But BBC reporter Frank Gardner, a security specialist, reported overnight that the Australians managed to avoid a similar incident - pointing their guns at the Iranians and used "colourful language" before a gunboat withdrew.

Escape

"What I've been told by several sources, military sources, (is that) there was a similar encounter, in this case between the Royal Australian Navy and Iranian gunboats, some months ago, or at least some months prior to the seizing of the British sailors," Gardner said on ABC radio today.

"The Australians escaped capture by climbing back on board the ship they'd just searched. I'm told that they set up their weapons.

"No shots were exchanged but the Iranians backed off and the Australians were able to get helicoptered off that ship and they didn't get captured."

Robust attitude

He did not mention the name of the Australian ship.

Australians ships rotate through duties in the Gulf, chiefly searching ships.

"What I'm hearing is that it was a pretty robust attitude by the Australians," Gardner said.

"The words that somebody said to me was that they used pretty colourful language but I'm sure that alone didn't make the Iranians back off.

"They reacted, I'm told, incredibly quickly, whereas the Brits were caught at their most vulnerable moment climbing down off the ship (and) getting into their boats."

Commodore Gilmore said there were similarities and differences between the two incidents.

"It's very difficult to predict the (British) outcome should have been the same as the Australian outcome because it wasn't the same circumstances."

He said he had not delved into whether the Australians used "colourful" language in the stand-off.

"As Australians I think we all know our capacity to engage, to defuse by discussion and they indeed did that. We might imagine what (language) was there - I haven't delved into that."

Cowards

Gardner said the British should be embarrassed about the incident, but the issue was whether military intelligence had been passed on.

"The point of this story is not that the Aussies were fantastically brave and the Brits were a bunch of cowards, although I'm sure some people will interpret (it that way)," he said.

"Lessons should have been drawn from what happened to the Australian crew."

He said he had not been able to find out whether the information on the Australian incident had been passed on to the British.

Commodore Gilmore said the Australian incident was not reported at the time because it was representative of operations in the Gulf.

But two members of the team were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for their conduct during the incident.

http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,21948791-5005961,00.html
 
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