Iran releases South Korean oil tanker seized in January

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Iran has released a South Korean-flagged oil tanker, seized in January at a time when Tehran urged Seoul to release several billion euros frozen due to US sanctions, the foreign ministry in Seoul said on Friday.

In a statement, the South Korean ministry specifies that the captain of the vessel has been released and that the tanker has “left safely today”.

Websites that track ships indicate that the 147-meter-long tanker is heading for the Strait of Hormuz.

The Hankuk Chemi had been seized and its twenty crew members of different nationalities arrested by the Revolutionary Guards, the ideological army of the Islamic Republic.

Tehran had accused the ship which carried 7,200 tons of “petroleum chemicals” of marine pollution.

In February, Iran had allowed all crew members except the captain to leave the country for “humanitarian” reasons, but most remained on board to maintain the tanker.

Iran was one of South Korea’s major oil suppliers until Seoul ceased its purchases in 2018 after the US decision, under President Donald Trump, to exit the international deal. on Iranian nuclear power.

Tehran accused Seoul of holding “hostage” seven billion dollars (5.7 billion euros) belonging to Iran.

Discussions in Vienna

New President Joe Biden has said he is ready to try to save the Iran nuclear deal and talks between Tehran and the international community began this week in Vienna.

South Korea announced in March that it had agreed to a solution to unlock the frozen funds but await the green light from Washington.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said Washington would oppose it unless the Islamic Republic again fully complies with the international Iran nuclear deal.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry made no mention of the funds in its statement on Friday.

On the side of the ship’s operator, DM shipping, no one wanted to comment at first.

On several occasions, Tehran has denied that this seizure is linked to the issue of funds withheld.

According to many South Korean media, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun will visit Tehran soon, without giving a date.

The seizure of the Hankuk Chemi was the first carried out by Iranian forces in more than a year.

In July 2019, the Revolutionary Guards arrested the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz – through which a fifth of the world’s oil production passes – before releasing it two months later.

The arrest of the Stena Impero was then seen as a response to the seizure by the British authorities in Gibraltar of an Iranian tanker which had been released, despite American objections.

Tehran has denied any connection between the two incidents.

Iranian forces seized at least six other ships that year for suspected fuel smuggling.