LONDON, (AP) -The 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran for nearly two weeks were granted permission to sell their stories to the media, the Ministry of Defense said Sunday.
The move is a change from the military’s usual policy of blocking serving personnel from entering into financial arrangements with media organizations. A Defense Ministry spokeswoman said the situation of the former captives is unique and deserved special consideration.
“In exceptional circumstances, such as the kind faced in recent days, permission can be granted by commanding officers and the MoD,” she said on condition of anonymity, in line with government policy.
The Sunday Times reported that the only woman in the group, 26-year-old Leading Seaman Faye Turney, could earn as much as $300,000 from deals with a broadcaster and a newspaper.
Turney did not participate in a news conference on Friday. A detailed statement, agreed by all 15 crew members, was read out, and six of the crew answered questions from reporters. The statement said they were subjected to constant psychological pressure.
The crew included seven Royal Marines, who have agreed to pool their fees and split them evenly, sending 10 percent to a military benevolent fund, both the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph said. The rest of the captured crew was made up of Royal Navy sailors, including Turney, who will “likely” be allowed to keep their fees, the Sunday Times said.
The sailors and marines were captured in the Persian Gulf on March 23 and freed last week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called their release a gift to Britain. They began two weeks of leave with their families on Saturday.
British media regularly pay for high-profile interviews. But the decision of the crew to sell their stories has caused concern.
“Many people who shared the anxiety of the hostages’ abduction will feel that selling their stories is somewhat undignified and falls below the very high standards we have come to expect from our servicemen and women,” said opposition lawmaker and defense critic Liam Fox.
A government official said the decision was made because of the exceptional demand for interviews with the crew, and also so the Defense Ministry could support the sailors and marines in handling the media.
Tehran says the crew was in Iranian waters in the Shatt al-Arab waterway, a long-disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran. Britain insists its troops were in Iraqi waters working under a U.N. mandate.
Prime Minister Tony Blair has insisted Britain did not negotiate for the sailors’ release, and did not offer an apology for their alleged trespass into Iranian waters.