South Korea Deploys Warship to Patrol Persian Gulf After Iran Seizes Tanker

South Korea Deploys Warship to Patrol Persian Gulf After Iran Seizes Tanker
The MT Hankuk Chemi, a South Korean-flagged tanker is escorted by Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats on the Persian Gulf in this photo released by Tasnim News Agency on Jan. 4, 2021. (Tasnim News Agency via AP)

A warship has been deployed by a South Korean anti-piracy unit in response to the seizure of a commercial tanker and its 20-member crew in Gulf waters by Iranian forces earlier this week, according to reports.

The Chungmugong Yi Sun Sin class destroyer named Choi Young arrived in the waters on Tuesday and will be operating near the Strait of Hormuz, which is located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson Boo Seung Chan said during a press conference, The Drive reported.

The warship operated by the anti-piracy Cheonghae Unit sailed just one day after the MT Hankuk Chemi, a South Korean-flagged oil tanker, was stormed by armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops who forced the vessel’s crew to change course towards Iran over an unspecified investigation, according to the vessel’s owner.

“The Cheonghae Unit arrived in waters near the Hormuz Strait earlier in the day,” the military spokesperson said at the briefing. “It is carrying out missions to ensure the safety of our nationals.”

A Seoul official has insisted that the situation with Iran will be resolved diplomatically and the warship will not take any military action, adding that the unit will only be present in the Gulf to provide safety to our people using the waterway,” Yonhap news agency reported.

“The issue should be resolved through diplomacy,” the official said. “The unit is focused on the safety of our people who use the waterway after the seizure incident.”

NTD Photo
A South Korean-flagged tanker vessel which was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards is seen in Gulf waters, Iran, on Jan 4, 2021. (IRGC/West Asia News Agency via Reuters)

Monday’s incident was the latest such incident by Tehran amid heightened tensions with the West over Iran’s nuclear program.

Seoul’s foreign ministry called the Iranian ambassador on Tuesday for the early release of the oil tankers’ 20-member crew. However, Iran responded that the vessel is being held for “environmental and chemical pollution concerns” in the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

The seizure came as South Korea, in accordance with sanctions reimposed by the United States in 2018 after withdrawing from the Obama-era nuclear agreement, continues a freeze on $7 billion from Iran’s oil exports in two Korean banks. Tehran has been calling on Seoul since July 2020 to release the money.

The Islamic regime on Tuesday denied speculation that it is planning to exchange the captured ship for its $7 billion funds, offering its bluntest acknowledgment yet of a link with the frozen assets.

“We’ve become used to such allegations,” spokesman Ali Rabiei said during a news conference, reported The Korea Times. “But if there is any hostage-taking, it is Korea’s government that is holding $7 billion, which belongs to us, hostage on baseless grounds.”

The 20 crew members on board the South Korean-flagged vessel include five South Koreans, 11 Myanmarese, two Indonesians, and two Vietnamese.

NTD Photo
A South Korean-flagged tanker that was seized by Iran is seen in the Gulf, Iran on Jan. 4, 2021. (IRGC/West Asia News Agency via Reuters)

South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun is scheduled to visit Tehran on Sunday, a visit that was previously scheduled and during which a range of bilateral issues will be discussed, the ministry said on Tuesday.

Iran has a record of seizing foreign ships traveling near the strategic Strait of Hormuz as a method of gaining advantage in sanctions talks.

In 2019, Iran held a British tanker for two months after the United Kingdom seized an Iranian tanker that was suspected of carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

Epoch Times reporter GQ Pan and Reuters contributed to this report.

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