SEOUL (AP) – Armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops drove off a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran, the ship’s owner said on Tuesday, Tehran’s latest maritime seizure on its nuclear program Tensions with the West increased.
The military raid on MT Hanuk Chemi on Monday was accompanied by Iranian explanations that they intercepted the vessel to pollute the Persian Gulf waters and the Strait of Hormuz. Instead, it appeared that the Islamic Republic sought to increase its advantage over Seoul before negotiating a multi-billion-dollar deal in South Korea’s banks under a US pressure campaign targeting Iran.
When asked about the seizure, a spokesman for the Iranian government offered not to accept Tehran’s frozen assets yet.
“If someone is said to be a hostage holder, it is the South Korean government that has taken more than $ 7 billion hostage under a vain excuse,” said spokesman Ali Rabie.
Iran also started uranium enrichment by 20% on Monday, A small technical step up from the 90% weapon-grade level at its underground Fordo facility. The move appeared in the last days of President Donald Trump’s administration with the aim of putting pressure on the US, which was unilaterally withdrawn from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Later on Tuesday, comments made by the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program stated that Tehran’s current production of up to 20% of enriched uranium would not reach the level required for nuclear weapons for two years, presumably from President-elect Joe Biden. Please give time for talks under.
An official of DM Shipping Co. Ltd. of Busan, South Korea, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to reporters, offered details of Hanuk Chemi’s seizure. The ship was traveling from the Jubail, Saudi Arabia to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates, when Iranian forces arrived on board the ship and said they would board it.
The official said that initially, the Iranian military said they wanted to run an unspecified check on the ship. The officer said the captain of the vessel spoke to the company’s security officials in South Korea, armed Iranian soldiers blew up the tanker as the Iranian helicopter flew overhead. The officer said the soldiers demanded an unspecified investigation sending the tanker into Iranian waters and refused to explain themselves.
The company has since been unable to reach the captain, the official said. The officer said security cameras were installed on the ship which initially closed the scene on the deck to the company.
The officer said the company received an anti-piracy security alert notice after the company lost contact with the captain, suggesting that the captain activate the onboard warning system. It is unclear if the ship tried to call for outside assistance.
The US Navy’s Middle East-based 5th Fleet regularly patrols the area with a US-led coalition monitoring the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, through which 20% of the world’s oil passes. A separate European-led effort also operates there.
The officer denied the vessel polluting the water.
In the past months, Iran has stepped up pressure on South Korea to unlock some $ 7 billion in frozen assets from the sale of oil earned before the Trump administration tightened restrictions on the country’s oil exports.
The head of Iran’s central bank recently announced that the country tied up in a South Korean bank to purchase the coronavirus vaccine through COVAX, an international program designed to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to participating countries. Wanted to use the money.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it plans to send a delegation of officials to the talks for the early release of the ship and its crew members on Tuesday. The crew consisted of sailors from Indonesia, Myanmar, South Korea and Vietnam, according to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said it was sending its anti-piracy unit to the Stromate of Hormuz – a 4,400-tonne class destroyer with about 400 soldiers.
South Korea’s presidential office said on Tuesday that it seized Iran’s ship “very severely”.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam said that Iranian officials have assured South Korea that the ship’s crew are all safe. He said a South Korean diplomat based in Iran has been sent to the location of the detained ship.
The US State Department joined South Korea for the immediate release of the tanker, risking “naval rights and freedoms” in the Persian Gulf to “evacuate the international community to relieve sanctions pressure” on Iran Was accused.
Last year, Iran similarly seized a British flagged oil tanker and kept it closed for months after its tankers were shut down from Gibraltar.
Meanwhile, Tehran, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told state television that the Islamic Republic’s current 20% -based uranium production would be about 9 kilograms (20 pounds) a month.
Ali Akbar Salehi’s comments mean Iran will need two years at that rate, with 240-kilogram (530 lb) experts saying arms-grade levels need to be recalibrated to 90%. Salehi said that Iran is also working to introduce new, faster centrifuges at its facilities.
Also on Tuesday, the Iranian military launched an elaborate, two-day aerial drill in the north of the country, state media reported that fighter and unmanned aircraft facilities, as well as naval drones sent from ships in Iran’s southern waters Huh. State TV aired footage of scores of drones on a runway in the northern province of Semnan, near the vast Kavir desert.
Iran has practiced with military drones before; It regularly releases footage from surveillance drones of American aircraft carriers passing through the Persian Gulf. This week’s drill also includes a modern “suicide drone” that hovers on the battlefield before reaching a target, the TV report said.
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Nasir Karimi and Amir Wahdat, authors of the Associated Press in Tehran, Iran; And Isabel Debre in Dubai contributed to this report.