A South Korean oil tanker held for months by Iran amid a dispute over billions of dollars seized by Seoul was freed and sailed away early Friday, just hours ahead of further talks between Tehran and world powers over its tattered nuclear deal. MarineTraffic.com data showed the MT Hankuk Chemi leaving Bandar Abbas in the early morning hours. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Iran released the tanker and its captain after seizing the vessel in January. The ministry says the Hankuk Chemi left an Iranian port at around 6am local time after completing an administrative process, the AP reports. Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, later confirmed that Iran had released the vessel.
The Hankuk Chemi had been traveling from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates when armed Revolutionary Guard troops stormed the vessel in January and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran. Iran had accused the ship 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 Iranian assets tied up in South Korean banks amid heavy US sanctions on Iran. Iran released the 20-member crew in February, but continued to detain the ship and its captain while demanding that South Korea unlock frozen Iranian assets. An official from South Korea’s Foreign Ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Seoul's willingness to resolve the issue of Iranian assets tied up in South Korea "possibly had a positive influence" in Iran’s decision.
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