Iran Guard forces board S Korean tanker

SEOUL (AP) — Armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran, the vessel’s owner said yesterday.

The military raid on Monday on the MT Hankuk Chemi was at odds with Iranian explanations that they stopped the vessel for polluting the waters of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Instead, it appeared the Republic sought to increase its leverage over Seoul ahead of negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks amid a United States (US) pressure campaign targetting Iran.

An official at DM Shipping Co Ltd of Busan, South Korea, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorised to talk to journalists, offered details of the Hankuk Chemi’s seizure.

The vessel had been travelling from Jubail, Saudi Arabia, to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) when Iranian forces reached the ship and said they would board it.

Initially, Iranian forces said they wanted to run an unspecified check on the ship, the official said.

As the vessel’s captain spoke to company security officials back in South Korea, armed Iranian troops stormed the tanker as an Iranian helicopter flew overhead, the official said.

The troops demanded the captain sail the tanker into Iranian waters over an unspecified investigation and refused to explain themselves, the official added.

The company has since been unable to reach the captain, the official said. Security cameras installed on the ship that initially relayed footage on the scene on the deck to the company are now turned off, the official said.

After the company lost contact with the captain, the company received an anti-piracy security alert notice, suggesting the captain activated an onboard warning system, the official said.

It remains unclear if the ship tried to call for outside assistance.

A seized South Korean-flagged tanker is escorted by Iranian Revolutionary Guard boats on the Persian Gulf. PHOTO: AP