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Iran's IRGC seizes South Korean chemical tanker

Highlights

Hankuk Chemi seized on air pollution grounds

Tanker was en route to UAE from Saudi Arabia

London — Iran seized a South-Korean-flagged chemical tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on Jan. 4, ratcheting up regional tensions and risks to oil shipments.

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Iran's semi-official Fars news agency confirmed in a report that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had seized a South Korean tanker "due to oil pollution" and had moved it to an Iranian port.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which monitors maritime security in the region, had said an interaction between a chemical tanker and Iranian authorities took place within the Strait of Hormuz on the morning of Jan. 4.

"As a consequence of this interaction, the vessel made an alteration of course north and proceeded into Iranian territorial waters," the notice said.

Maritime security consultancy Dryad Global said it had identified Hankuk Chemi as the likely tanker.

Data from Platts trade flow software cFlow show that Hankuk Chemi, which can hold a 20,000 mt cargo, was on its way to Fujairah, UAE, and had loaded a cargo from Saudi Arabia's Jubail port.

Representatives at DM Shipping Co. Ltd, which owns the tanker, were unavailable for comment.

The tanker is now between Qeshm and Larak Island in Iran, according to cFlow data.

This comes as Iran is trying to get South Korea to release almost $7 billion of oil revenues that it owes the OPEC member, according to the Fars report.

Tehran has previously said these funds have not been paid by South Korea due to pressure from US sanctions.

Prior to US sanctions, South Korea was one of the top five buyers of Iranian crude and condensate.

An official at South Korea's ministry of foreign affairs couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Seoul is currently communicating with Tehran for confirmation and details over the incident, according to local media reports.

"Iran and South Korea have a good relationship ...at least neutral in terms of geopolitics. There's no reason for Tehran to seize a South Korean tanker without any valid reasons," a condensate trader at a South Korean petrochemical company said. "This won't exactly raise alarm bells among South Korean oil companies and cause any disruptions to oil trade flows from the Middle East."

This incident comes almost a year after a number of tanker-related incidents in the Strait of Hormuz chokepoint last year and in 2019, which raised geopolitical risks in the world's biggest oil producing basin.

Iran has repeatedly issued threats to close or disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, should US sanctions block its oil shipments.