Iran releases South Korean ship it detained amid funds dispute

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A South Korean oil tanker detained for months by Iran amid a dispute over billions of dollars seized by Seoul was released and departed early Friday, hours before talks continued between Tehran and the world powers over its tattered nuclear deal.

Data from MarineTraffic.com showed that MT Hankuk Chemi was leaving Bandar Abbas early in the morning.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said Iran released the tanker and its captain after seizing the vessel in January. The ministry said the Hankuk Chemi left an Iranian port around 6 a.m. local time after completing an administrative process.

Iran did not immediately recognize that the ship had been released. The shipowner, DM Shipping Co. Ltd. from Busan, South Korea, could not be reached immediately for comment.

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The Hankuk Chemi had traveled from a petrochemical facility in Jubail, Saudi Arabia to Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, when armed Revolutionary Guards troops stormed the ship in January and forced it to change. of course and to go to Iran.

A photo obtained by AFP from Iranian news agency Tasnim on January 4, 2021 shows the South Korean-flagged tanker being escorted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy after being seized in the Gulf.  (Getty Images)
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A photo obtained by AFP from Iranian news agency Tasnim on January 4, 2021 shows the South Korean-flagged tanker being escorted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard navy after being seized in the Gulf. (Getty Images)

Iran had accused MT Hankuk Chemi of polluting the waters of the crucial Strait of Hormuz. But the seizure was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Seoul to release billions of dollars in Iranian assets tied up in South Korean banks amid heavy US sanctions against Iran.

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South Korea’s foreign ministry did not specify the conditions for the vessel’s release. Iran freed many of the ship’s crew in February.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an anonymous Foreign Ministry official, suggested Seoul could repay Iranian UN dues that were overdue. In January, the UN said Iran was at the top of the list of countries that owe the global body money with a minimum bill of more than $ 16 million. If it is not paid, Iran could lose its voting rights as required by the Charter of the United Nations.

In this photo provided by the South Korean Foreign Ministry, MT Hankuk Chemi leaves the port of Bandar Abbas, Iran, on Friday, April 9, 2021 (Associated Press)

In this photo provided by the South Korean Foreign Ministry, MT Hankuk Chemi leaves the port of Bandar Abbas, Iran, on Friday, April 9, 2021 (Associated Press)

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“We expect to make considerable progress in terms of paying UN dues,” the official said. “We have also exported some $ 30 million in medical supplies since humanitarian trade with Iran resumed last April.”

The development came as Iran and world powers were set to resume negotiations in Vienna on Friday to break the deadlock on US sanctions against Iran and Iranian violations of the nuclear deal. The 2015 nuclear deal, which then-President Donald Trump abandoned three years later, offered sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Associated Press writer Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul contributed to this report.

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