S. Korean delegation to head to Iran to negotiate over ship seizure

January 6, 2021

A South Korean delegation is set to depart for Iran soon to negotiate the early release of a seized tanker and its crew, officials said Wednesday.

The delegation, led by Koh Kyung-sok, director-general of the foreign ministry’s Africa and Middle Eastern affairs, will board a plane around Thursday midnight bound for Tehran via Qatar, Seoul’s foreign ministry said.

Iranian officials were initially negative toward the visit, saying they saw no need for it, but they accepted it later after consultations with Seoul.

The MT Hankuk Chemi was held by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on Monday over alleged marine pollution. Tehran said the 20 crew members, including five South Koreans, are safe.

Iran has claimed that the seizure concerned “technical issues” that will be dealt with in accordance with its judicial process. The ship’s operator has denied the allegations of pollution and raised doubts about the legality of the seizure.

The ministry has sent a consular official from its embassy in Iran to Bandar Abbas, the port city where the ship is being held, with hope for a meeting with the sailors.

The South Korean delegation is also expected to provide support to the sailors if the legal process begins.

Seoul’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun also plans to travel to Iran early next week to discuss the seizure and other bilateral issues.

This CCTV image shows the moment the South Korean-flagged oil tanker MT Hankuk Chem was captured by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards speedboat (in the red circle) in the Gulf's Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 4, 2021, over the ship's alleged oil pollution. The ship's operator denied the allegations. (Yonhap)

This CCTV image shows the moment the South Korean-flagged oil tanker MT Hankuk Chem was captured by an Iranian Revolutionary Guards speedboat (in the red circle) in the Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 4, 2021, over the ship’s alleged oil pollution. The ship’s operator denied the allegations. (Yonhap)

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