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Iran Seizes South Korea-Flagged Oil Tanker In Persian Gulf

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) of Iran has seized a South Korea-flagged tanker in the Gulf, the semi-official Iranian Tasnim News Agency reported on Monday.

The IRGC Navy seized the ship in the Strait of Hormuz, the most crucial oil chokepoint in the world, early local time on Monday, according to various reports.

The IRGC, including its Al Quds Force, was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States in 2019.   

"The South Korean tanker was stopped in the waters of the Persian Gulf" because of environmental pollution, the IRGC Navy said, as carried by the Iranian Fars News Agency. The ship is headed to one of the ports in Iran, where the issue "will be examined," according to the IRGC Navy, quoted by Fars. 

The reported incident in the Gulf comes amid strained relations between Iran and South Korea, which has frozen Iranian oil money accounts due to the U.S. sanctions, maritime security experts say.

The South Korea-flagged tanker, Hankuk Chemi, was traveling from Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) carrying ethanol when it was stopped by vessels of the IRGC Navy in the Strait of Hormuz early on Monday.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, UKMTO, said it was "aware that an interaction occurred this morning" within the Strait of Hormuz between a merchant vessel and the Iranian authorities. "As a consequence of this interaction the Merchant Vessel made an alteration of course North and proceeded into Iranian Territorial Waters," UKMTO said. 

Maritime security firm Dryad Global said that the tanker "has likely been detained by Iranian forces in the Straits of Hormuz while inbound to Fujairah."

"Iranian-South Korean relations have dramatically declined over the last two years, with Tehran expressing hostilities over South Korea's refusal to release Iranian oil-revenue from South Korean banks," Dryad Global noted.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Mamdouh Salameh on January 04 2021 said:
    If South Korea opts to behave as a puppet of the United States including freezing Iranian oil money accounts due to the U.S. sanctions, Iran is entitled to take whatever necessary actions to retrieve its money. US sanctions against Iran aren’t approved by the UN Security Council.

    It is one thing for South Korea to comply with US sanctions and stop buying Iranian crude oil. But it is a different ballgame altogether to freeze money belonging to Iran. Therefore, it is a legitimate action by Iran to seize a South Korea-flagged tanker in the Gulf until it gets its frozen money.

    Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
    International Oil Economist
    Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London

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