A picture obtained by AFP from the Iranian news agency Tasnim on January 4, 2021, shows the South Korean-flagged tanker being escorted by Iran's Revolutionary Guards navy after being seized in the Gulf. (Photo: AFP)
Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps seized a South Korean-flagged tanker in Gulf waters, Iranian media said on Monday, at a time of tension between Tehran and Seoul over Iranian funds frozen at South Korean banks due to US sanctions.
Several Iranian media outlets said the Guards navy captured the vessel for polluting the Gulf with chemicals. The semi-official Tasnim news agency published pictures showing what it identified as Guards speed boats escorting the tanker HANKUK CHEMI, which it said was carrying 7,200 tonnes of ethanol.
It said the vessel's crew members had been detained and included nationals of South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar, but did not say how many there were. It said the tanker was being held at Iran's Bandar Abbas port city.
South Korea's foreign ministry did not have an immediate comment. Iranian authorities have yet to comment on the incident, which comes ahead of an expected visit by South Korea's deputy foreign minister to Tehran.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry said on that the visit would happen in coming days and would discuss Iran's demand that South Korea release $7 billion in funds frozen in South Korean banks because of US sanctions.
The United States re-imposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after President Donald Trump withdrew from an international deal to lift them in return for curbs on Iran's nuclear programme. Tehran calls the US sanctions economic warfare.
Two maritime security companies earlier said the HANKUK CHEMI appeared to have been seized by Iranian authorities.
British firm Ambrey said the South Korean-flagged vessel, owned by DM Shipping Co, had departed from the Petroleum Chemical Quay in Jubail, in Saudi Arabia, before the incident and had since been tracked inside Iranian territorial waters headed towards Bandar Abbas.
Another maritime security firm, Dryad Global, said on its website the chemical tanker had "likely been detained by Iranian forces" in the Strait of Hormuz while inbound to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.