Iran seizes South Korean-tanker, Seoul demands release

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Iranian media said on Monday, January 4, that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps captured a South Korean-flagged tanker in Gulf seas, at a time when Tehran and Seoul are at odds over Iranian funds held in South Korean banks due to US sanctions.

Seoul confirmed the seizure of a South Korean chemical tanker off the coast of Oman by Iranian officials and urged that it be released immediately.

The vessel was intercepted by the Guards navy for polluting the Gulf with chemicals, according to several Iranian media agencies, including Iranian state television. The semi-official Tasnim news agency published photos of what it described as Guards speed boats escorting the tanker HANKUK CHEMI, which was carrying 7,200 tonnes of ethanol, according to the outlet.

The vessel’s crew, who included nationals of South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar, had been detained, according to the report. The tanker was claimed to be docked in Iran’s Bandar Abbas port city. According to South Korea’s foreign ministry, the ship had a crew of 20 people.

In response to a Reuters question, spokeswoman Rebecca Rebarich said the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain was aware of the situation and was monitoring it.

Iranian authorities have yet to comment on the event, which occurs only days before South Korea’s deputy foreign minister is scheduled to visit Tehran.

The visit will take place in the coming days, according to the Iranian foreign ministry, and will focus on Iran’s demand that South Korea release $7 billion in funds blocked in South Korean institutions due to US sanctions.

After withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers in which Iran promised to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, the US reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018.

British firm Ambrey said the South Korean-flagged vessel, owned by DM Shipping Co, had departed from the Petroleum Chemical Quay in Jubail, in Saudi Arabia, before the incident.

The chemical tanker was “likely been detained by Iranian forces” in the Strait of Hormuz while arriving to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, according to another maritime security outfit, Dryad Global.

Two weeks after a British warship arrested an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar, Iran heightened tensions in the world’s busiest oil route by seizing the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in early 2019.

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