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Britain's Defense Chief Reports on Inquiries Into Boarding Incident in Gulf

Britain's defense secretary, Des Browne, has disclosed in parliament the findings of two inquiries examining the March 23 boarding incident in the Gulf that led to the two-week detention in Iran of 15 British marines and sailors. For VOA, Tom Rivers reports from London.

While acknowledging the incident was embarrassing, Browne told his parliamentary colleagues that lessons would be learned and implemented.

U.S. and British officials said the sailors and marines had boarded a merchant ship and were searching it when they and their two inflatable boats were intercepted by Iranian vessels near the disputed Shatt al-Arab waterway. Browne said no single person was to blame.

He told members of parliament that a series of vulnerabilities were behind the capture of the British crew. But he says the party did have adequate aerial helicopter back-up and the naval vessel, HMS Cornwall, was playing an adequate support role as the event unfolded. "This event was not the result of equipment or resource issues including helicopter availability, the size and suitability of the Cornwall or the size and armament of the boarding party's boats," he said.

Without going into detail, Browne admitted to intelligence shortcomings among coalition partners, behind the scenes, as the event unfolded. He said those shortcomings are being rectified.

He also stressed that British boarding party members would now be given additional training. "In future , we deploy specialist rather than composite [generalist] teams for boarding operations, a recommendation we have already acted on," he said.

A second inquiry dealt with the decision, when the 15 detainees were released, that allowed them to sell their stories to the British media, a decision that Defense Secretary Browne now says was wrong. "I welcome the report's clear recommendation that media payments to serving military or civilian personnel for talking about their work should simply not be allowed. This confirms my announcement on the 9th of April of an interim ban on acceptance of media payments, and work is now under way to make detailed amendments to service and MOD [Ministry of Defense] guidance to reflect his conclusion," he said.

Defense Secretary Browne expects most of the recommendations contained in the two reports to be implemented by the end of the year.