Iran frees South Korean ship it held amid dispute over funds

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A South Korean oil tanker held for months by Iran amid a dispute over billions of {dollars} seized by Seoul was freed and sailed away early Friday, simply hours forward of additional talks between Tehran and world powers over its tattered nuclear deal.

MarineTraffic.com information confirmed the MT Hankuk Chemi leaving Bandar Abbas within the early morning hours. By Friday afternoon, it was off the jap coast of the United Arab Emirates, having handed safely via the Strait of Hormuz.

South Korea’s Foreign Ministry stated Iran launched the tanker and its captain after seizing the vessel in January. The ministry says the Hankuk Chemi left an Iranian port at round 6 a.m. native time after finishing an administrative course of.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, later confirmed that Iran had launched the vessel.

“At the request of the owner and the Korean government, the order to release the ship was issued by the prosecutor,” Khatibzadeh was quoted as saying by the state-run IRNA news agency.

The ship’s owner, DM Shipping Co. Ltd. of Busan, South Korea, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Hankuk Chemi had been traveling from a petrochemicals facility in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates when armed Revolutionary Guard troops stormed the vessel in January and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran.

Iran had accused the MT Hankuk Chemi of polluting the waters in the crucial Strait of Hormuz. But the seizure was widely seen as an attempt to pressure Seoul to release some $7 billion in Iranian assets tied up in South Korean banks amid heavy American sanctions on Iran. Iran released the 20-member crew in February, but continued to detain the ship and its captain while demanding that South Korea unlock frozen Iranian assets.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry did not acknowledge the fund dispute when announcing the ship’s release, with Khatibzadeh saying only that the captain and tanker had a clean record in the region.

But an official from South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity under regulations, said Seoul’s willingness to resolve the issue of Iranian assets tied up in South Korea “possibly had a positive influence” in Iran’s determination to launch the vessel.

The official stated Iran had acknowledged South Korea’s makes an attempt to resolve the dispute because it grew to become clear the problem was “not just about South Korea’s ability and efforts alone” and was “intertwined” with negotiations over the return to Tehran’s foundering nuclear deal.

Unfreezing the funds entails the consent of assorted nations together with the U.S., which in 2018 imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors. The official stated South Korea has been intently speaking with different nations over the frozen Iranian property.

In January, the U.N. stated Iran topped a listing of nations owing cash to the world physique with a minimal invoice of over $16 million. If unpaid, Iran might lose its voting rights as required beneath the U.N. Charter.

“We’re expecting to make a considerable progress in terms of paying the U.N. dues,” an unnamed South Korean Foreign Ministry official was quoted by the nation’s Yonhap information company. “We have also exported some $30 million worth of medical equipment since we resumed the humanitarian trade with Iran last April.”

Iran later introduced it anticipated South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun to travel to Tehran for a two-day go to starting Sunday. Yonhap stated the journey can be the primary go to of a South Korean premier to Iran in 44 years — earlier than Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. Chung beforehand visited Iran in August 2017 because the then-speaker of the National Assembly.

The growth got here as Iran and world powers had been set to renew negotiations in Vienna on Friday to interrupt the standoff over U.S. sanctions in opposition to Iran and Iranian breaches of the nuclear settlement. The 2015 nuclear accord, which then-President Donald Trump deserted three years later, provided Iran sanctions aid in alternate for restrictions on its nuclear program.

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Associated Press writers Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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