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Hankuk Chemi: Iran releases seized South Korean tanker

In a press release on Friday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Hankuk Chemi and its captain were released early Friday Iranian time. The captain and crew’s health was healthy – as was the cargo, the ministry said.

Iran seized the tanker at sea in January, accusing it of contaminating the water with chemicals and keeping the ship in the port of Bandar Abbas.

Its release comes after South Korea promised to try to release Iranian funds frozen in South Korean banks under US sanctions, a South Korean official told Reuters.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry confirmed the ship’s release following the completion of an investigation and at the request of its owner and the South Korean government, according to the state news agency IRNA.

“Iran with long coastlines in the Persian Gulf and the Omani Sea emphasizes full compliance with maritime rules, including environmental protection, and monitors any breach in this regard,”

; Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted as saying.

He said the Iranian decision to release the captain had taken into account that he had no record of past violations in the region.

The issue sparked a diplomatic dispute after Iran demanded that South Korea release $ 7 billion in funds frozen in South Korean banks under U.S. sanctions.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official told reporters Friday that both sides agreed that the ship and that the funds were not related issues and South Korea promised to help get the money released.

“We have expressed our firm will to solve the fund’s problem,” said the official, who refused to be identified.

The South Korean ministry said in a statement that the ship had left Iran after completing administrative procedures. It did not mention the demand for the release of funds.

“The captain and the sailors are in good health,” the ministry said.

South Korea said the ship did not cause any pollution. The ministry official said Iran dropped a plan to seek criminal charges against the shipping company.

Iran has denied allegations that the seizure of the tanker and its crew constituted hostage-taking, saying that it was South Korea that held Iranian funds hostage.

Freezing the funds is linked to US sanctions, which Washington reintroduced in Tehran in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with the world powers in 2015.

Under the Biden administration, the United States and Iran have entered into indirect talks on a return to the agreement.

The United States has recently agreed to allow Iran to use the funds for non-military purposes, and it has spent some on coronavirus vaccines secured through the global COVAX initiative, the ministry official said without giving a precise amount.

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