Iran has claimed responsibility for seizing a tanker, used to carry oil products and chemicals, after the ship veered into its territorial waters.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the South Korea-flagged Hankuk Chemi vessel at 10am Iranian time “due to repeated violations of marine environmental laws,” the IRGC said in a statement. It follows a series of security incidents in the Gulf region, where multiple vessels have been attacked in recent years amid flaring tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The tanker was carrying 7,200 tons of petrochemicals from Jubail in Saudi Arabia when Iran intercepted it, the IRGC said. The guard corps took the vessel to Bandar Abbas port in Iran, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.
Tasnim News Agency earlier reported that Iran had seized the tanker due to “environmental and chemical pollution in the Gulf,” citing people with knowledge of the matter. Crew members from Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar were arrested, according to Tasnim.
The Hankuk Chemi was sailing to the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah after loading at Jubail on Jan. 2, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. It veered off course in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch of water between the tip of Oman and Iran, and headed toward Bandar Abbas.
UK Maritime Trade Operations, which serves as a link between the Royal Navy and commercial vessels operating in high-risk areas, said there had been “an interaction” between a merchant vessel and the Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz between 6.15am and 7.33am London time.
The US Fifth Fleet, which operates in the region, is “aware and monitoring the situation,” spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich said.
The incident follows the discovery of a mine attached to the hull of an oil tanker off Iraq on Dec. 31, near the Iranian border. A ship at the Saudi port of Jeddah was hit by an explosion earlier last month too, which Saudi authorities labelled an act of terror.