Seoul, Apr 9 (efe-epa).- Iran released a South Korean oil tanker it had seized in January amid a dispute over Iranian funds frozen in banks in Seoul under sanctions by the United States over its nuclear program, South Korea’s foreign ministry said Friday.
In a statement, the ministry said the ship left safely with its captain and the other 12 crew members from the port of Bandar Abbas at 5:50 am after completing local administrative procedures.
The ministry confirmed that the captain and the crew are in good health and that there are no anomalies in the general condition of the ship, including the cargo.
The HT Hankuk Chemi tanker was seized on Jan. 2 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf following a court order citing the vessel as a contamination risk.
Although Tehran has denied accusations that the seizure of the vessel amounted to hostage-taking or was a political case, serious doubts have been raised due to the fact that Iranian assets worth between $7 billion and $9 billion are locked in South Korean banks under US sanctions.
For months, Iran has insisted on the need to release these funds as soon as possible while South Korea has expressed its willingness to work to remove this blockade, at least for part of that money.
The funds have been frozen since former US President Donald Trump’s administration reimposed sanctions on Tehran, including its oil exports, following Washington’s withdrawal from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in 2018.
Although the new US government, led by Joe Biden, has pointed to a shift in its policy on the Tehran regime, Washington recently said that Iran, which has called for an end to sanctions before returning to the 2015 agreement, will not be granted sanctions relief until it returns to fulfilling its commitments contained in the treaty.
The release of MT Hankuk Chemi suggests Seoul may have finally reached an agreement with Washington to unblock Iran’s funds or part of them. EFE-EPA