“As it has been previously declared, the problem with the Korean ship is purely technical, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, like all countries, is fully sensitive to protecting and safeguarding the marine environment and deals with violations in accordance with the law,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters on Tuesday.
“The South Korean government’s behavior in this regard is incomprehensible and rejected. We urge the Korean government to deal rationally and responsibly with this technical issue,” he added.
On Monday, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC)’s Navy said the South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi tanker had been impounded upon a request by Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization and a verdict by the prosecutor office of Hormozgan province.
Carrying 20 crew members, the ship was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz when it was intercepted for causing water pollution.
It was headed to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after loading 7,200 tons of oil chemical products in Saudi Arabia.
After the seizure, Seoul ordered its naval destroyer ROKS Choi Young to move near the Strait of Hormuz.
In a report submitted to the National Assembly on Wednesday, the South Korean Foreign Ministry announced that it was preparing to take legal action against the tanker seizure.
Separately, presidential spokesperson Kang Min-seok said the government was taking the issue gravely while discussing coordinated measures through meetings involving the National Security Office, National Intelligence Service and ministries.
South Korea’s National Security Council also discussed possible responses at a working-level meeting on Tuesday.
A day earlier, South Korea Foreign Ministry spokesman Choi Young-sam said his country would dispatch a delegation to Iran soon to resolve the tanker situation “through bilateral negotiations.”
He also noted that South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun will go ahead with a previously planned three-day trip to Tehran early next week.
The visit had been scheduled earlier to discuss the release of $7 billion in Iranian funds held illegally in South Korea under the pretext of US sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
On Tuesday, Ali Rabiei, spokesman of the Iranian administration, rejected allegations that Tehran had seized the South Korean ship as leverage in the diplomatic row over Iranian funds locked up in South Korea.
“If there is any hostage-taking, it is Korea’s government that is holding $7 billion, which belongs to us, hostage on baseless grounds,” he said.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Khatibzadeh said, “As the authority in charge of such issues, the [Iranian] Ports and Maritime Organization is professionally trying to offer the necessary assistance to the ship and its crew, and will inform the public about it.”
Referring to the upcoming visit by a South Korean delegation to Iran, he explained that the trip by South Korea’s vice foreign minister had been scheduled prior to the incident.
“The visit will take place in the near future, but it has nothing to do with the issue [of the seized ship],” he said.
“The two countries have not reached any agreement on a separate visit, because this issue is pursuing its defined legal course within a technical framework and there is no need for a diplomatic visit.”