The Weekend Australian
Iran releases S Korean tanker
Iran has released a South Korean oil tanker that it had detained for three months, Seoul says, signalling a potential end to a diplomatic quarrel over frozen bank funds.
The Hankuk Chemi, a South Korean-flagged ship that Iran impounded in January, left the Iranian port of Rajai at 5.50am (11.20am AEST) on Friday, South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said. Tehran had seized the ship, along with its captain and 19 crew members, for what Iran said were violations of environmental rules.
Iran detained the Hankuk Chemi’s captain until Friday. Some of the crew members had been released earlier and gone back to South Korea, while others stayed on the ship for maintenance purposes.
“The health of the crew and captain are sound. The ship’s cargo is also in good condition,” Seoul’s Foreign Ministry said.
The detainment has been seen by Middle East experts as an Iranian attempt to force Seoul, a US ally, to release several billion dollars that banks in South Korea froze in 2019 to comply with American sanctions restricting financial transactions with Iran.
Washington, Tehran and others resumed this week longstalled negotiations aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. American and Iranian officials aren’t meeting directly but are working through European intermediaries, who also gathered in Vienna alongside representatives from the other parties to the deal, Russia and China.
The US, through European allies, earlier signalled a willingness to explore ways to allow Iran to reclaim some of the funds held in South Korean banks.
South Korea has separately been conducting negotiations with Iran over ways to unlock some of the estimated $US7bn ($9.2bn) held by two of the country’s banks. Seoul has contacted Washington over the possibility of using some of those funds for humanitarian purposes, such as providing ambulances or medical equipment for Iran, South Korean officials have said.