South Korean tanker, captain released after three months in Iranian custody

Hankuk Chemi (Photo: van Marle)

Iranian authorities have released a South Korean-flagged tanker and its captain from their custody some three months after the vessel was seized for pollution violations allegedly committed by its crew.

The ethanol tanker Hankuk Chemi and its captain were freed on Friday, April 9, foreign ministry officials in Seoul confirmed later that same day.

Hankuk Chemi was seized by elements of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) on January 4 after authorities in Tehran claimed that it was polluting the waters of the Strait of Hormuz. The ship and its crew were then detained in the port city of Bandar Abbas.

However, shipowner Taikun Shipping said the seizure was sudden as there had been no prior indication that the vessel was under investigation for the supposed offences.

The release of the tanker and the captain came following the conclusion of an investigation as well as negotiations with the owner and the South Korean government, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told local media.

The captain had no record of earlier violations in the waters off Iran, a fact that was taken into account when the government decided on his release, added Mr Khatibzadeh.

The captain is the last of the tanker’s 20-strong crew to remain in Iranian custody. The other 19 that included South Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Myanmar nationals were released and flown back to their respective countries in February.

Hankuk Chemi‘s seizure had earlier prompted South Korea’s defence ministry to send a warship and a naval anti-piracy team to the Strait of Hormuz to safeguard other South Korean vessels passing through the region.

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