TEHRAN – The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Maritime Force seized a South Korean-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on Monday.
The seizure comes amid tensions between Iran and South Korea surrounding $7 billion worth of Iranian funds that are blocked in a South Korean account because of United States sanctions relating to Tehran’s nuclear program.
The tanker was seized for causing “environmental and chemical pollution” and taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abas, the Revolutionary Guard reported on its official website.
The operator of the South Korean ship denied that it was causing pollution, Yonhap news agency reported.
In a statement, South Korea’s foreign ministry said its embassy in Iran was requesting the “early release of the ship” after confirming that “the crews are safe.”
The MT Hankuk Chemi was carrying 7,200 tons of chemical and oil products as well as 20 crew members – 5 Koreans, 11 Myanmarese, two Indonesians and two Vietnamese –, Yonhap reported.
The ship left the port of Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia and was detained in the Persian Gulf and transferred to Bandar Abbas, where legal proceedings will be opened, the Revolutionary Guard said.
The seizure of the cargo ship was made at the request of the Ports and Shipping Bureau and by order of the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office of Hormozgan province, whose capital is Bandar Abbas, the Revolutionary Guard said.
The Persian Gulf has been the scene of numerous incidents since May 2019, including attacks on oil and cargo ships, amid growing tensions between Tehran and Washington due to US sanctions on the sale of Iranian oil.
In July 2019, the Revolutionary Guard seized the British-flagged ship Stena Impero, with 23 crew members on board, in response to the detention of one of its tankers in Gibraltar. Both were released months later.
The Iranian government has not yet commented on the incident with the South Korean ship, a country with which it is in negotiations to return $7 billion that are blocked in its banks due to US sanctions.
The South Korean deputy foreign minister is due to visit Tehran in the coming days.