Crew still on board seized South Korean ship despite Iran’s release pledge
On January 4, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the Hankuk Chemi and arrested its multinational crew of 20 sailors near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, saying it had polluted the waters
Even as Iran announced earlier this week to release the crew of a South Korean tanker seized by it in a humanitarian move, the personnel are still on board the ship, Seoul said on Thursday.
On January 4, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the Hankuk Chemi and arrested its multinational crew of 20 sailors near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, saying it had polluted the waters.
The development came as Tehran urged Seoul to release billions of dollars of Iranian assets frozen in South Korea due to US sanctions.
Iran's foreign ministry said on Tuesday, the crew of the seized tanker had been granted permission to leave the country 'in a humanitarian move', although it would retain the vessel and its captain.
According to the South Korean reports, the partial release may complicate the situation as the ship needs personnel to maintain it.
All the crew members remained on board, Seoul's foreign ministry said on Thursday, adding South Korean officials had been allowed to meet them on Wednesday for the first time since the seizure.
"The foreign ministry is discussing with the tanker company on the disembarkation and return of the crew and will put in efforts to secure the release of the captain and the ship as early as possible," a statement said.
Nothing was certain despite Tehran's announcement the crew would be released, said a representative of the tanker company, DM Shipping. “Discussions for their return are still ongoing. It hasn't been decided whether they will return 100 per cent," he added.
The arrested crew belongs to different nationalities, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, South Korea, and Myanmar.
Former US president Donald Trump in 2018 withdrew Washington from a landmark nuclear agreement with world powers and then reimposed and reinforced crippling sanctions on Iran.
Iran was a key oil supplier to resource-poor South Korea until Washington's rules blocked the purchases. According to government spokesman Ali Rabiei, Iran has $7 billion of funds blocked in Seoul.
Tehran has repeatedly denied any link between the ship's seizure and the funds issue.