The ship was carrying more than 7,000 tons of ethanol
The U.S. State Department called on Iran to “immediately release a tanker” that was seized by Tehran in Persian Gulf waters.
“The United States is following the information that the Iranian regime has detained a Republic of Korea-flagged tanker. The regime continues to threaten the rights and freedoms of navigation in the Persian Gulf as part of an attempt to force the international community to ease sanctions pressure. We join the Republic of Korea in calling on Iran to immediately release the tanker,” a State Department spokesman said.
The detention of the ship came amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Seoul over Iranian funds frozen in South Korean banks because of U.S. sanctions. South Korea confirmed the seizure of its chemical tanker by Iranian authorities in Omani waters and demanded its immediate release.
Several Iranian media outlets, including state television, said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized the vessel over alleged chemical pollution in the Gulf.
“According to initial reports from local authorities, this is purely a technical issue and the ship was brought ashore because of sea pollution,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted as saying by the country’s state television.
Semi-official news agency Tasnim published photos showing IRGC speedboats escorting the tanker, which, according to them, was carrying 7,200 tons of ethanol.
The detained crew members include citizens of South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Iranian state television reported that the tanker was being held in the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. According to the South Korean Foreign Ministry, the ship had 20 crew members.
The U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet is aware of the incident and is monitoring the situation, spokeswoman Rebecca Rebarik said.
The incident occurred on the eve of an expected visit by South Korea’s deputy foreign minister to Tehran. Khatibzadeh said the visit will take place in the coming days, during which officials will discuss Iran’s demand that South Korea unfreeze $7 billion.