Iran seizes South Korean-flagged tanker in Persian Gulf

Verity Ratcliffe January 04, 2021
Hankuk Chemi tanker
Hankuk Chemi tanker

(Bloomberg) --Iran has claimed responsibility for seizing a tanker, used to carry oil products and chemicals, after it veered into its territorial waters.

The semi-official Tasnim News Agency reported Monday that Iran has seized the South Korea-flagged Hankuk Chemi vessel due to “environmental and chemical pollution in the Persian Gulf,” citing sources with knowledge of the matter. The vessel was carrying 7,200 tonnes of ethanol and the arrested crew members were from Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar, according to Tasnim.

The seizure follows a series of shipping security incidents in the Persian Gulf. The region and the Red Sea have been a hotbed for attacks on vessels in recent years, with tensions flaring between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The semi-official Fars News Agency reported the seizure being due to “oil pollution” and that naval forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps were responsible for seizing the vessel and bringing it to Bandar Abbas port in Iran.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations, which serves as a link between the Royal Navy and commercial vessels operating in high risk areas, said there had been “an interaction” between a merchant vessel and the Iranian authorities at around 6:15 a.m. local time in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Hankuk Chemi was sailing to the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah after loading at Jubail, Saudi Arabia on Jan. 2, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. It veered off course in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch of water between the tip of Oman and Iran, and headed toward Bandar Abbas.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet, which operates in the region, is “are aware and monitoring the situation,” said spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich.

The incident follows the discovery of a mine attached to the hull of an oil tanker off Iraq on December 31, near the Iranian border. A ship at the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah was hit by an explosion earlier last month too, which Saudi authorities labeled an act of terror.

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