TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran said Monday its Revolutionary Guards had seized a South Korean-flagged tanker in Gulf waters for breaking “environmental laws”, at a time of heightened tensions with the United States.
South Korea demanded the release of the Hankuk Chemi and its multinational crew of 20.
Seoul’s defence ministry said Choi Young, a destroyer carrying members of South Korea’s anti-piracy unit, arrived in waters near the Strait of Hormuz and was “carrying out a mission to ensure the safety of our nationals”.
The Guards said on their Sepahnews website that the ship carrying 7,200 tonnes of oil chemical products “was seized by our force’s (navy) this morning”. The Guards said the arrested crew were from South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar.
“This tanker was headed from Saudi Arabia’s Al Jubail port and was seized due to the repeated infringement of maritime environmental laws,” it added.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement that the tanker’s seizure was over a “purely technical issue and due to polluting the sea”.
“Just like other countries, Iran is sensitive towards such infractions, especially polluting the maritime environment, and therefore confronts it in the framework of law,” he said.
South Korea’s vice foreign minister Choi Jong-kun confirmed a diplomatic visit to Tehran in the coming days.
Iranian officials want South Korea to release billions in assets held because of US sanctions.
According to Iran’s central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, the country has “$7 billion of deposits in South Korea” that can neither “be transferred nor do we get any returns on, while they ask us for the costs” of holding the funds.