Seoul, Jan 5 (efe-epa).- The South Korean government has urged Iranian authorities to immediately release a South Korea-flagged oil tanker and its crew after the vessel was seized by Revolutionary Guards Corps in the waters of the Persian Gulf.
The MT Hankuk Chemi vessel was seized and its crew detained on Monday by the Iranian Maritime Force for allegedly causing “environmental and chemical contamination” and taken to the port of Bandar Abás, the Revolutionary Guard said on its official website.
The South Korean Foreign Ministry and its embassy in Iran “have learned that the crews are safe, and are requesting the early release of the ship,” the ministry said in a statement Monday night.
According to the Yonhap news agency, the South Korean defense ministry has also sent the anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit to the spot where the vessel was seized.
The unit will respond in cooperation with the ministries of foreign affairs and fisheries and a multinational naval force operating in nearby waters, the news agency said.
The vessel had a cargo of 7,200 tons of chemical and oil products with about 20 crew members from countries such as South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar onboard.
The ship left the port of Al Jubail in Saudi Arabia bound for the United Arab Emirates.
But it was stopped in the Persian Gulf and transferred to Bandar Abás where “the issue is to be dealt with by the judicial officials,” IRGC noted.
The Iranian military said the seizure was carried out at the request of the Ports and Maritime Organization and by the order of the Prosecutor’s Office of Hormozgan Province, whose capital is Bandar Abás.
DM Shipping is operating the vessel.
An official of the operator denied allegations that the ship polluted waters in the Persian Gulf.
The official told Yonhap that Iranian troops contacted the vessel as it sailed on high seas.
They demanded the ship face examinations in Iranian waters, the official said.
The incident comes as tensions are rising in the Persian Gulf between the United States and Iran.
Iran has already begun enriching uranium up to 20 percent at an underground facility.
The tensions have risen over numerous incidents since May 2019, including attacks on oil tankers and freighters.
The situation deteriorated after the US pulled out of an international nuclear agreement and imposed sanctions on the Iranian oil sale. EFE-EPA