Iran seizes two Saudi fishing vessels in Gulf: Fars

DUBAI (Reuters) - The Iranian coast guard has seized two Saudi fishing vessels after they entered Iran's territorial waters, a local coast guard official was quoted as saying on Wednesday.

"Yesterday, the coast guard deployed in the country's southern waters came to spot two vessels in Iran's protected waters," Qalandar Lashkari, commander of the Bushehr province coast guard, told the Fars news agency.

He said the two vessels were fishing illegally in Iranian waters under Saudi flags. The nine sailors of various nationalities on board were arrested, he said.

Relations are tense between Shi'ite Muslim power Iran and Sunni Muslim-led Saudi Arabia, and seizures of vessels accused of straying into one another's waters occur a few times a year.

"Sometimes we catch fishermen crossing the Saudi maritime borders and vice versa; it's only a matter of fishermen," a senior coast guard official from the Saudi side of the Gulf said, adding that he had not heard of any arrests recently.

Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of fomenting unrest among Shi'ites in its oil-rich Eastern Province, and Riyadh fears Tehran's nuclear work is a cover for an atomic weapons program. Iran denies both charges.

Despite its mistrust of Iran, Saudi Arabia gave a qualified welcome on Monday to Tehran's interim deal with world powers over its disputed nuclear program.

Fars did not give a location for the latest incident. The province of Bushehr stretches down Iran's northern Gulf coast and is the site of the only nuclear power station in the region.

In a similar incident in early January, Iran's coast guard detained 10 Indian nationals aboard two Saudi-flagged fishing vessels. Those arrests came just days after Saudi Arabia detained 21 Iranian nationals who were aboard two boats near al-Harqus island, 42 miles off the Saudi coast.

(Reporting by Daniel Fineren in Dubai and Reem Shamseddine in Khobar, Saudi Arabia; editing by Jane Baird)