The news of the capture of 15 British Navy personnel in the Gulf is made more poignant for me through a number of past experiences.
First, less than a year ago I looked down upon Iraqi territorial waters where this incident has now taken place. I was travelling by plane from Arbil in Northern Iraq to Dubai in the Gulf State of the United Arab Emirates. So I looked out of a port side window in order to see the Shat-al-Arab River where it forms the border with Iran.
As we moved south we came to Iraqi territorial waters and then to the High Sea in the Gulf. These immediate areas were packed with shipping arriving and leaving from the Iraqi Faw Peninsula and neighbouring Kuwait. It was in the Iraqi waters that it is claimed the capture of our troops took place.
50 Years Earlier
Secondly, when I undertook my National Service in Iraq in 1955 and 1956, I was stationed at an RAF Movements Unit at Basra. It was situated on the bank of the Shat-al-Arab River. Earlier versions of the Naval Frigate, the HMS Cornwall turned up from time to time at our quayside. On one occasion, a group of us bordered one of these Frigates and travelled down river to a port near the edge of the Faw Peninsula in order to play a cricket match against the British Management at an Oil Refinery.
When we approached the Iranian town of Abadan on the opposite side of the Shat-al-Arab, we had to be cleared from the decks in case we were spotted by the Iranians. RAF troops seen on a Frigate would have created a diplomatic incident. We did, however, glance out on Abandan from a position just below the deck.
By Boat on the Shat-al-Arab
Finally, I was a regular traveller by a petrol-driven boat from our camp to the docks in Basra when my job was extended from my original work of linking with Iraqi State Railways. I then also covered Shipping Line work, with a group of us sometimes needing to go down stream to visit Ships anchored on the Iraqi side of the river. But it was normally just myself with an Iraqi who drove the boat - we were once driven back by stormy weather.
Such trips on the river occurred in an area close to where eight British troops were captured by Iranians in 2004.
The Current Crisis
It is to be hoped that Margaret Beckett's efforts quickly work and that the 15 captured troops are immediately released. It is important for their own well-being and that of their families, friends and colleagues. It is also a crisis we can do without in the massive complexities of our relationship with Iran and Iraq.
I will be paying special attention to developments. Not least because I see them through the prism of my past experiences.