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(LEAD) Ministry official meets Iranian ambassador to protest seizure of S. Korean tanker

All News 13:54 January 05, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS ambassador's comments in paras 3-4, photo)
By Kim Seung-yeon

SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- A foreign ministry official met with Iran's top envoy in Seoul on Tuesday to lodge a protest over this week's seizure of a South Korean oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

Koh Kyung-sok, director-general of the ministry's African and Middle Eastern affairs, expressed regrets to Iranian Ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari and called for the early release of the ship and its crew members.

Ahead of the meeting, the ambassador said the sailors remain safe but declined to elaborate further.

"All of them are safe. Nothing to worry about (in regards to their health)," he said, when approached by reporters.

Iranian Ambassador Saeed Badamchi Shabestari arrives at Seoul's foreign ministry on Jan. 5, 2021, for a meeting with a ministry official over Tehran's seizure of a South Korean oil tanker. (Yonhap)

The South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi was seized Monday by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) reportedly due to allegations of chemical pollution. The operator of the ship denied the allegations.

The vessel with five South Koreans, 11 Myanmarese, two Indonesians and two Vietnamese on board was traveling from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates.

The seizure came amid tensions between Seoul and Tehran over Iranian financial assets frozen under U.S. sanctions.

News reports said that Tehran was considering proposing to Seoul that the two countries barter the frozen money for COVID-19 vaccines and other goods.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul is making every effort for the swift release of the ship and the crewmembers, while trying to figure out the situation and check the safety of the people aboard.

This closed-circuit TV image shows South Korean oil tanker MT Hankuk Chemi arriving in an Iranian port after it was seized by Iranian troops on Jan. 4, 2021. An Iranian speedboat is seen in the red circle. (Yonhap)

elly@yna.co.kr
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