Iran Seizes South Korean Chemical Tanker in the Persian Gulf

Iran seizes South Korean tanker
Image of the Hankuk Chemi released by Iran - Tasnim News Agency (CC BY-SA4 license)

Published Jan 4, 2021 11:24 AM by The Maritime Executive

Iran is reporting that it has detained a South Korean chemical tanker that was sailing in the Persian Gulf. The 17,427 dwt tanker Hankuk Chemi had departed Saudi Arabia’s Al Jubail port sailing to Fujairah, UAE, when the vessel was approached by the Iranian Navy and diverted into Iran’s southern port city of Bandar Abbas.

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Navy later issued a statement saying the tanker, which was carrying 7,200 tons of ethanol, had been captured because of “repeated violation of environmental regulations.” Citing environmental and chemical pollution concerns, the Navy’s statement said that the oil tanker had been berthed at Bandar Abbas, “for legal procedures to be performed by the Iranian Judiciary officials.”

Security analyst Dryad Global confirmed the reports noting that the vessel has a crew of 23 aboard, including from South Korea, Indonesia, and Burma.

Dryad notes that tensions have remained high in the area, but cautions that the full details on this incident are unclear. “Iranian-South Korean relations have dramatically declined over the last two years,” says Dryad, “with Tehran expressing hostilities over South Korea's refusal to release Iranian oil-revenue from South Korean banks.”

The South Korean Foreign Ministry issued a statement later in the day demanding the immediate release of the vessel. Reuters is also reporting that South Korean forces stationed in the Strait of Hormuz have been dispatched to the area.

This incident comes just days after a limpet mine was found on another tanker, the M/T Pola that was anchored and doing ship-to-ship- oil transfers off Iraq. In that incident, Iraqi officials reported that the crew was safe and that they were defusing the mine while also investigating the circumstances and when and where the mine was attached to the vessel. The tanker had been at anchor for several days near Iraqi’s oil terminal before the mine was discovered. Dryad suggested that the mine might have failed to detonate or that it had been a “trial” possibly to test security.