Iran seizes ship, ramps up enrichment as Gulf tensions mount – world news

Iran seized a South Korean-flagged oil tanker within the Strait of Hormuz hours earlier than asserting it might enhance its nuclear actions, as tensions within the area mount within the last days of Donald Trump’s US presidency.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps stated it detained the Hankuk Chemi vessel at 10 a.m. native time Monday “due to repeated violations of marine environmental laws.”

It’s the most recent in a collection of delivery incidents within the Persian Gulf, the place a number of vessels have been attacked or seized in recent times.

The occasions have unfolded towards a broader backdrop of rising nervousness within the Middle East as the Trump administration prolonged its offensive to weaken Iran and drive it into deeper nuclear and navy concessions.

Concerns of additional battle have grown within the last weeks earlier than Joe Biden takes over in Washington, particularly across the current assassination of a prime Iranian nuclear scientist and this week’s first anniversary of the killing of the nation’s main common.

“In the short run, these tactics run the risk of turning into a just cause for war in the waning days of the Trump administration, and in the longer run can poison the well with Biden’s team,” stated Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project on the International Crisis Group.

Iran’s military additionally introduced massive-scale drone workouts beginning Tuesday following a weekend of defiant speeches accusing the US of aggression.

Korea Reacts

Iran’s announcement Monday that it might begin processing uranium to twenty% purity marks an extra breach of a nuclear deal that Trump, who leaves office Jan. 20, deserted in 2018.

That announcement got here shortly after Washington determined to maintain the USS Nimitz within the Persian Gulf due to “recent threats” from Iran’s leaders towards Trump. The plane provider had been set to depart the area.South Korea’s Defense Ministry stated it ordered the deployment of its naval destroyer ROKS Choi Young to waters close to the Strait of Hormuz on Monday.

The Hankuk Chemi’s proprietor, DM Shipping Co., denied it had damaged any marine environmental guidelines, including that the vessel was nonetheless being held off Iran, based on an official from the company who requested to not be named as a consequence of inner coverage.

The ship was headed to Fujairah after loading petrochemicals together with methane from Jubail in Saudi Arabia and was crusing by means of the Strait of Hormuz when it was intercepted, the official stated. A complete of 20 crew members from South Korea, Myanmar, Indonesia and Vietnam have been on board the vessel.

The guard corps took the ship to Bandar Abbas port in Iran, the semi-official Fars News Agency stated. Iran’s Foreign Ministry later appeared to minimize the incident, saying the seizure was associated to a “technical issue” and careworn that it’s nuclear transfer was simply reversible.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi stated that nuclear weapons had “no place” within the nation’s protection program, based on Tasnim.

Strained Relations

Relations between Tehran and Seoul have been strained because the US reimposed powerful sanctions on Iran and banned nations, together with main Asian clients, from shopping for its petroleum.

Iran says it has at the least $7 billion from oil gross sales trapped in South Korea and the money is required to buy humanitarian items, together with coronavirus vaccines. Seoul’s deputy overseas minister was scheduled to go to Iran to debate the trapped funds, a spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry stated simply earlier than the tanker was seized.

South Korea isn’t a member of the International Maritime Security Construct, a maritime drive created in 2019 in response to Iranian assaults and to guard sea lanes within the Middle East. Seoul has beforehand indicated a willingness to work with IMSC, although it has not requested help from the alliance to date, stated an IMSC spokesman.

The Hankuk Chemi was crusing to the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah after loading at Jubail on Jan. 2, based on ship-monitoring knowledge compiled by Bloomberg. It veered off track within the Strait of Hormuz, a slender stretch of water between the tip of Oman and Iran, and headed towards Bandar Abbas.

UK Maritime Trade Operations, which serves as a hyperlink between the Royal Navy and industrial vessels working in excessive-threat areas, stated there had been “an interaction” between a service provider vessel and the Iranian authorities within the Strait of Hormuz between 6:15 a.m. and seven:33 a.m. London time.

The US Fifth Fleet, which relies within the area, is “monitoring the situation,” spokeswoman Commander Rebecca Rebarich stated.

On Dec. 31, a mine was found connected to the hull of an oil tanker off Iraq, close to the Iranian border. A ship on the Saudi Red Sea port of Jeddah was hit by an explosion earlier within the month, which Riyadh labeled an act of terror.

Iran detained the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero for greater than two months at Bandar Abbas in mid-2019 in retaliation for the arrest of certainly one of its ships off Gibraltar. The Islamic Republic seized one other oil vessel that was crusing by means of the Strait of Hormuz across the identical time.

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