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4 Jan, 2021 13:39

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seize South Korean-flagged tanker for ‘oil pollution’ in Persian Gulf

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seize South Korean-flagged tanker for ‘oil pollution’ in Persian Gulf

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of Iran has confirmed detaining a South Korean-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf. The ship had earlier been spotted off-course in the country's waters.

Oil tanker ‘Hankuk Chemi’ carrying 7,200 tons of petrochemicals was seized due to “a series of violations of maritime environmental laws” and was taken to one of the country's ports, the IRGC said on its website.

The statement said the ship’s crew consisted of South Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Myanmar nationals.

The vessel was in waters off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas as of Monday, according to ship tracking website MarineTraffic.com. It was originally traveling from Jubail in Saudi Arabia to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. The vessel is operated by the Busan-based company, DM Shipping Co.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has demanded the tanker’s immediate release.

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The ship seizure comes amid already-strained relations between South Korea and Iran over Seoul freezing billions of dollars in Iranian funds due to US sanctions. The head of the Iran-South Korea Joint Chamber of Commerce, Hossein Tanhaei, was quoted by the Tehran Times on Sunday as saying that the Islamic Republic was going to negotiate its asset freeze in Seoul.

Tehran was evaluating options to “barter our money” with South Korea with “a variety of goods, including [the] Covid-19 vaccine,” Tanhaei said.

He told ILNA news agency last month that assets worth $8.5 billion had been blocked by a South Korean bank, and Iran was working to resolve the issue.

The safety of ships passing through the Gulf of Hormuz, which is vital for the global oil trade, has been among the key issues in ongoing tensions between Iran and Western countries.

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In August 2020, Gibraltar police boarded the tanker ‘Grace 1’, which was suspected of smuggling oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. The following month, Iran seized British-flagged tanker ‘Stena Impero’, which was accused of violating maritime regulations. Both vessels were released following a tense diplomatic standoff.

In 2019, the US accused Iran of bombing several tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Tehran denied any involvement in the attacks.

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