South Korea has dispatched the Cheonghae Unit, which includes South Korean special forces aboard the 5,000-ton destroyer Choi Yong into the strategic Strait of Hormuz after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized a South-Korean-flagged chemical tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on January 4.
This move by Iran has intensified the regional tensions and risks to oil shipments.
It is not yet clear, what actions the South Korean forces are authorised to take. On the other hand, officials in Seoul are trying to resolve the issue diplomatically, South Korean foreign ministry, in a statement, has demanded the immediate release of the seized tanker.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which monitors maritime security in the region, had said an interaction between a chemical tanker and Iranian authorities took place within the Strait of Hormuz on the morning of Jan. 4.
“As a consequence of this interaction, the vessel made an alteration of course north and proceeded into Iranian territorial waters,” the notice said.
Maritime security consultancy Dryad Global said it had identified Hankuk Chemi as the likely tanker.
As per the Islamic Republic News Agency, the vessel had left Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubail Port before it was seized by the IRGC naval force. The South Korean tanker was carrying 7,200 tons of oil-based chemicals and had on board nationals from South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Myanmar.
Video released of #IRGC forces seizing the South Korean vessel Hankuk Chemi earlier today. pic.twitter.com/w17dNrJBJM
— Aurora Intel (@AuroraIntel) January 4, 2021
Though Iran is claiming that the detention is due to the environmental and chemical pollution in the Persian Gulf, the move by the Islamic Republic of Iran is seen as a tactic to pressurise South Korea to release nearly $7 billion of oil revenues that it owes, according to the Fars report. Iran has previously said, these funds have not been paid by South Korea due to pressure from US sanctions.