DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A South Korean oil tanker detained for months by Iran amid a dispute over billions of dollars seized by Seoul left the port early Friday after the ship and its captain were freed at hours of continuing talks between Tehran and the world powers on its tattered nuclear deal.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said MT Hankuk Chemi left an Iranian port around 6 a.m. local time after completing an administrative process, and data from MarineTraffic.com showed the tanker was leaving Bandar Abbas early in the morning.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh later confirmed that Iran released the ship. “At the request of the owner and the Korean government, the order to release the ship was issued by the prosecutor,” Khatibzadeh said, quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
The Hankuk Chemi had traveled in January from a petrochemical facility in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, to Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, when armed troops from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps stormed the ship and forced the ship. to change course and go to Iran.
Iran had accused 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 billions of dollars in stranded Iranian assets in South Korean banks in response to US sanctions on Iran.
South Korea’s foreign ministry did not specify the conditions for the vessel’s release. Iran freed many of the ship’s crew in February.
South Korea’s UKTN, citing an anonymous Foreign Ministry official, suggested Seoul could reimburse Iran’s overdue United Nations dues.
In January, the United Nations said Iran was at the top of the list of countries that owed the global body money, and that the country risked losing its voting rights if the debt problem failed. was not resolved.
The development came as Iran and world powers were set to resume negotiations in Vienna on Friday to break the deadlock on US sanctions against Iran and Iranian violations of the nuclear deal.
The 2015 nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump abandoned three years later, offered sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.