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South Korea has dispatched military forces to the Strait of Hormuz after the Iran Revolutionary Guard seized a Korean-flagged oil tanker yesterday.
According to Arirang News, the dispatched force is South Korea's anti-piracy unit. It comprises a 300-strong force, a helicopter, and a 400-ton destroyer.
"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.
The operator of the vessel has denied the allegations.
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.
South Korea immediately issued a statement demanding the release of the vessel and its crew of 20.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Iran has stepped up pressure on South Korea, which froze billions of oil export revenue dollars in Iran-held accounts amid U.S. sanctions.
"It is appalling to see that Korean banks have conveniently neglected their obligations, common international financial agreements, and decided to play politics and follow illegal and unilateral U.S. sanctions," the governor of Iran's central bank told Bloomberg.
In December 2019, in an attempt to force Seoul to release the money, Iran slapped South Korea with a bill for $6 billion worth of crude oil deliveries. According to reports at the time, South Korea had deposited the money at two local banks but had not transferred it to Iran because of the U.S. sanctions.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.