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Iran releases South Korean tanker and crew captured at sea

The MT Hankuk Chemi was released on Friday more than three months after it was captured by Iran’s forces in the Strait of Hormuz in January. File Photo by Tasnim News Agency/EPA-EFE
The MT Hankuk Chemi was released on Friday more than three months after it was captured by Iran’s forces in the Strait of Hormuz in January. File Photo by Tasnim News Agency/EPA-EFE

April 9 (UPI) -- Iran confirmed it has agreed to release a South Korea-flagged tanker, more than three months after it was captured in the Strait of Hormuz for alleged pollution at sea.

Iran's Mehr news agency reported Friday that Tehran's foreign ministry said Iran's prosecution investigated the vessel, the MT Hankuk Chemi, for violations of law. After the examination, Iranian authorities agreed to release the tanker, the report said.

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Said Hativjade, spokesman for Tehran's foreign ministry, said the prosecution found no evidence of malfeasance on the ship or on the part of the ship's captain.

Tehran ordered the release of the crew in February as part of "humanitarian measures," but the South Korean captain and some members of a multinational crew stayed behind to maintain the ship. The captain and 12 crew members were still on board on Friday, Al Jazeera reported.

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Hativjade suggested on Friday the seizure of the tanker was justified, citing Iran's policies on the environment.

"Iran, a country with long coastal areas in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, emphasizes thorough compliance with maritime regulations, including environmental protection regulations," the spokesman said.

In Seoul, South Korea's foreign ministry confirmed the ship's release on Friday.

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Data on MarineTraffic showed the MT Hankuk Chemi had left the port of Bandar Abbas and appeared to be heading home, South Korean news service Newsis reported Friday.

South Korea and Iran agreed to free up some of Tehran's assets to purchase COVID-19 vaccines earlier this year. South Korea froze Iran's assets in 2018 after the Trump administration unveiled sanctions against Tehran, a move that drew condemnation from the Iranian government.

The Biden administration said this week it is ready to lift Iran sanctions that are inconsistent with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signed during the Obama administration.

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Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif previously said the Obama-era nuclear deal could prevail if the two sides "coordinate" on the issue.

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