The US State Department has called on Iran to “immediately release the tanker” that was seized by Tehran in the waters of the Persian Gulf.
“The United States is monitoring reports that the Iranian regime has detained a tanker flying the flag of the Republic of Korea. The regime continues to threaten the rights and freedoms of navigation in the Persian Gulf in an attempt to force the international community to ease sanctions pressure. We join the call of the Republic of Korea to Iran to immediately release the tanker, ”said a State Department official.
The vessel was detained amid increased tensions between Tehran and Seoul over Iranian funds frozen in South Korean banks due to US sanctions. South Korea confirmed the seizure of its chemical tanker by Iranian authorities in Omani waters and demanded its immediate release.
Several Iranian media outlets, including state television, said the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had hijacked the ship for allegedly contaminating the bay with chemicals.
“According to initial reports from local authorities, this is a purely technical issue and the ship was brought ashore due to sea pollution,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Khatibzade was quoted as saying by the country’s state television.
Tasnim, a semi-official news agency, released photos of IRGC speedboats escorting a tanker that they said was carrying 7,200 tons of ethanol.
Among the detained crew members are citizens of South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar. Iranian state television reported that the tanker was being held in the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. According to the South Korean Foreign Ministry, the ship had 20 crew members.
The Fifth US Navy Fleet, based in Bahrain, is aware of the incident and is monitoring the situation, spokeswoman Rebecca Rebarik said.
The incident took place on the eve of the expected visit of the Deputy Foreign Minister of South Korea to Tehran. Khatibzadeh said the visit will take place in the coming days, during which officials will discuss Iran’s demand for South Korea to unfreeze $ 7 billion.