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PoliticsMiddle East

Iran seizes South Korean-flagged tanker

January 4, 2021

Iranian forces captured the South Korean-flagged chemicals tanker in the Gulf's Strait of Hormuz. Tehran wants US sanction-related funds frozen in South Korean banks released.

A tanker in the Persian Gulf
South Korea has called for the immediate release of the tanker and its 20 crew membersImage: Tasnim News Agency/AP/picture alliance

Revolutionary Guards in speed boats seized the Hankuk Chemi, a tanker carrying ethanol, in the Straits of Hormuz as it was traveling from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates, Iranian media outlets reported Monday. 

Maritime tracking firms said the ship ended up stationary in Iranian territorial waters off Iran's Bandar Abbas port city.

Seoul’s foreign ministry called in the Iranian ambassador to South Korea for a meeting and urged the early release of the South Korean-flagged tanker and its crew of 20.

It was carrying a cargo of more than 7,000 tonnes of ethanol when it was seized on Monday over what Iranian media said were pollution violations.

South Korea did not immediately comment on Iran's allegation that the tanker had caused "oil pollution" in Gulf waters. 

But the government said it is reviewing whether a senior diplomat's trip to Tehran on Sunday will go ahead as planned.

Tensions over US sanctions

Iran has been demanding that South Korean banks release $7 billion (€5.7 billion) in funds frozen because of US sanctions re-imposed on Iran in 2018 after President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 multinational deal to restrain Iran's nuclear ambitions. 

The US Navy's Bahrain-based 5th fleet said authorities they were aware and monitoring the situation. 

Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency said the tanker's crew members, including nationals from South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar were being held in Bandar Abbas.

The ship seizure coincided with Iran's announcement that it had begun enriching uranium up to 20% at its Fordo underground facility — short of weapons-grade material. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that his nation would "not allow Iran to manufacture a nuclear weapon."

Tehran has long maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful. 

ipj/nm (Reuters, AP, dpa)