Iran releases Korean vessel detained in January

A South Korean vessel, Hankuk Chemi, was released after 3 months, in exchange for the promise of halting sanctions on the Iranian funds in South Korean banks.

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On Friday, it was reported that Iranian authorities released the South Korean ship detained in January. The petrochemical loaded ship Hankuk Chemi had been seized by the Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz off Oman upon the accusation of polluting the waters with chemicals. The Iranian Foreign Ministry issued a statement confirming the release of the ship. In a statement, Iranian commitments to international maritime regulations were stressed, including environmental protection and monitoring violations, in this regard.

The release of the ship came after the completion of an investigation and upon the request of the ship’s owner, DM Shipping Co. Ltd of Busan, the Iranian state news agency reported. The vessel’s captain was also released, taking into consideration that he had no record of past violations in the region.

The vessel, carrying 7,200 tons of ethanol, was navigating from Saudi Arabia’s port of Al-Jubail to South Korea through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) when it was detained by Iranian forces on January 4, at the demand of Iran’s Ports and Shipping Authority.

The incident had occurred amid Iran putting pressure on Korean authorities to halt sanctions on Iranian frozen assets in the country, worth over $7 billion. The freezing of the Iranian funds came after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018. At that time, South Korean officials labeled the incident as a “hostage-taking” while the Iranian side insisted that the issue “should not be politicized.” The escalated tension reflected itself during the South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Jong-Kun’s visit to Tehran in January. After long negotiations, Iran agreed to release the vessel’s crew except for the captain in February.

On the other hand, the South Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement indicating that the vessel had left Iran after completing administrative procedures. It was also stated that both sides agreed that the ship and the funds are separate issues, and South Korea pledged to help to halt sanctions on the funds.

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