The Weekend Australian

Iran releases S Korean tanker

- ANDREW JEONG SEOUL

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.

 ?? Rajai Friday AFP ?? The
Hankuk
Chemi departs the port of on
Rajai Friday AFP The Hankuk Chemi departs the port of on

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