South Korea’s foreign ministry said it was reviewing whether the ship seized by Iran violated international law by polluting the waters, as claimed by Tehran, but also whether Iran violated it during the boarding and seizure process.
Seoul’s foreign ministry had called in the Iranian ambassador on Tuesday to call for early release of the tanker and its crew of 20. Iran had said the ship was held over environmental violations.
A South Korean delegation headed to Iran on Wednesday to seek the release of a chemicals tanker and its 20-member crew seized in Gulf waters by Iranian forces, Yonhap news agency reported.
Images released by #Iran|ian media Tasnim News of the South Korean Vessel HANKUK CHEMI being escorted back to an Iranian Port by #IRGC Navy after being seized due to "polluting the Persian Gulf" pic.twitter.com/4tDwhsfVjw— Aurora Intel (@AuroraIntel) January 4, 2021
South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun is scheduled to visit Tehran on Sunday, a visit that was previously scheduled and during which a range of bilateral issues will be discussed, the ministry said on Tuesday.
Iran denied on Tuesday it was using the ship and its crew as hostages, a day after it seized the tanker near the Strait of Hormuz while pressing a demand for Seoul to release $7 billion in funds frozen under US sanctions.
The seizure of the MT Hankuk Chemi has been seen as an attempt by Tehran to assert its demands, just two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in the United States.
Iran wants Biden to lift sanctions that were imposed by outgoing President Donald Trump.
In response to the seizure, meanwhile, Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism warned Japanese shippers to use extra caution in operations in the area, an official at the ministry’s maritime bureau said.