South Korean diplomats stymied by Iran after tanker seizure

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Jan. 6 (UPI) — South Korean diplomats stationed in Tehran traveled to Bandar Abbas on the southern coast of Iran in an attempt to make contact with detained crew members of the MT Hankuk Chemi, but Iranian authorities could be restricting access.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said Wednesday the Iranian government claimed all crew members, including South Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Myanmarese nationals are “doing well” and told Seoul “not to worry,” South Korean news service News 1 reported. South Korean diplomats have requested a direct phone call with the crew, however.

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Tehran has not publicly accepted South Korean offers of talks after demanding the parent company of the South Korean tanker seized by Iran’s armed forces on Monday pay fines for alleged pollution.

Iran’s foreign ministry said in a written statement this week South Korean government actions are “incomprehensible and unacceptable.” Tehran also denied the confiscation of the ship was a politically motivated move, and said the “oil tanker problem is completely technical,” according to South Korean television network JTBC.

South Korea has said it will send a diplomatic delegation from Seoul to Iran to discuss the ship. Late Wednesday, Korea time, Koh Kyung-seok, director of the African and Middle Eastern Affairs Bureau at the foreign ministry, left for Tehran. Iranian officials have said a delegation is not necessary, according to South Korean press reports.

DM Shipping, the South Korean parent company of the Hankuk Chemi, has denied the Iranian charges of pollution. According to DM Shipping partner Taikun Shipping, the company is trying to verify the pollution claims with the Japan P&I Club, but Iranian authorities are not fully cooperating, according to News 1.

Analysts in South Korea said the capture of the ship could be politically motivated and retaliation for South Korean compliance with U.S. sanctions against Iran.

On Tuesday Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei claimed Seoul was “hostage-taking” by withholding “$7 billion” of Iranian funds. Last year Iran threated to sue Seoul over the freezing of Iranian assets.