Iran frees crew of arrested South Korean tanker

Iranian authorities have released the crew of Hankuk Chemi, a South Korean tanker seized due to “environmental pollution” off Oman a month ago.

In what Iran describes to be “a humanitarian move”, the country told seafarers they are allowed to leave.

However, the 17,400 dwt vessel and its Master remain in detention, according to data provided by VesselsValue.

“Following the South Korean government’s request and through the good offices of the … [Iranian] Judiciary in accordance with judicial regulations, crew members of the South Korean vessel seized on charges of polluting the environment in the Persian Gulf have been authorized to leave the country in a humanitarian move by the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, said in a statement.

“Judicial proceedings are underway, in accordance with the law, into the case of violations by the ship and its captain,” he added.

Khatibzadeh also mentioned a phone conversation between Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Abbas Araqchi and South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun. During the meeting, Iran emphasized the necessity of freeing up Iran’s assets in South Korea. The two sides also discussed effective mechanisms to use these financial resources.

The Korean side also said Seoul is determined to make utmost efforts to release the frozen assets as soon as possible.

To remind, Iran arrested the 2000-built chemical tanker on 4 January, citing oil pollution. On the other hand, the vessel owner, DM Shipping, denied all allegations that the vessel caused pollution.

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Numerous reports suggest that the reason behind the detention might be South Korea’s refusal to release Iranian oil-revenue from South Korean banks. This has resulted in hostilities from the Iranian side as Teheran believes the decision to keep what is estimated to be up to $7 billion in frozen assets is unacceptable.