South Korea is sending military forces to respond to the seizure of one of its tankers by Iran, an endeavor in which it is seeking to work with other nations operating in the region.
Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard announced Monday that its Zulfiqar fleet had seized a South Korean vessel operating in the Islamic Republic’s First Naval District in the Persian Gulf “due to a series of violations of marine environmental laws” after it departed from Saudi Arabia’s Al-Jubail port.
The ship, Hankuk Chemi, was said to be transporting up to 7,200 tons of oil-based chemicals, and carrying a crew of South Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Myanmar nationals. Both ship and crew are being held at Iran’s Bandar Abbas port, where the Revolutionary Guard said “the issue is to be dealt with by the judicial officials.”
In response to the incident, a South Korean Defense Ministry official told Newsweek the country, officially known as the Republic of Korea (ROK), had “sent anti-piracy troops near the Strait of Hormuz for the ROK oil tanker directly.
Asked if South Korea would seek support from the International Maritime Security Construct, a U.S.-led coalition of at least nine nations designed to prevent acts of sabotage and prevent Iran from seizing international ships after a restive 2019 near the Strait of Hormuz, the official said Seoul sought “close cooperation with regards to the ROK government’s and multinational anti-piracy naval troops.”
The Strait of Hormuz is the world’s most important maritime oil traffic chokepoint and a recurring flashpoint for U.S.-Iran tensions and threats that have severely escalated since Donald Trump took office in 2017.
U.S. Central Command’s Navy 5th Fleet did not immediately respond to Newsweek‘s for comment.
The U.S. and South Korea are military allies and, while their mutual defense was established to ward off attacks from rival North Korea, it obliges each to come to the other’s aid in the event of any “external armed attack.”
Anxieties over potential escalations in the Persian Gulf have run especially high around the one-year anniversary over the past weekend of the U.S. killing of Revolutionary Guard Quds Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq.
Iranian permanent mission to the United Nations spokesperson Alireza Miryousefi recently denounced the killing of the influential and controversial Iranian military leader’s death last year as “something that was almost universally condemned as an illegal and terror act (by even U.S. allies).” He added that “it has not affected Iran’s national security policy.”
“What it has done is illustrate to the entire world the true nature of the Administration in flouting international law and norms, and the desperation it feels in its inability to bring Iran to its knees,” he told Newsweek. “Iran has endured Trump and his allies, and will continue its foreign and security policies as it always has.”
Miryousefi added a warning.