Iran releases S. Korean ship's captain; ship underway with remaining crew
Updated: 2021-04-09 16:56:27 KST
The South Korean oil tanker Hankuk Chemi and its captain, detained in Iran for three months, have been released.
The captain was the last to be let go, Iran in February having released the 19 other crewmembers as it claimed to be investigating what called "environmental pollution."
With nine of them having left the country earlier, the ship departed Iran safely Friday morning, according to Seoul's foreign ministry, with the captain and the rest of the crew onboard.
They're accompanied by a few others who'd been sent to help manage the ship in the meantime.
The ministry said the crew are in good shape, as are the vessel and its cargo.
In January, the ship was detained in the Strait of Hormuz for allegedly polluting the sea, but Tehran provided no evidence.
Soon after, Seoul's first vice foreign minister Choi Jong-kun went to Iran and met with Iranian officials to try and secure the vessel's prompt release.
Seoul's foreign ministry has been continuing dialogue with Tehran on the issue.
Although Tehran has consistently denied it, the seizure was widely speculated to be a way to pressure Seoul into returning Iranian assets frozen in South Korea due to U.S. sanctions.
Diplomatic sources in Seoul say they have been putting a great deal of effort into resolving the issue, which has apparently contributed to the ship's release.
The Korean government has been consulting with the U.S. on using part of the Iranian assets it's holding to pay Iran's UN contributions or return them by using the Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement.
It has been also seeking to expand humanitarian trade with Tehran partially allowed under the sanctions.
The sources added that the ship's release also seems to have been affected by ongoing talks between the U.S, Iran and other countries to return to the nuclear deal.
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, in the meantime, will be visiting Tehran from Sunday until Tuesday to discuss bilateral issues, presumably including economic cooperation and Iran's assets.
Yoon Jung-min, Arirang News.