Policy & Regulation

05 Jan 2021

Iran Seizes UAE-Bound Chemical Tanker

05 Jan 2021  by Adal Mirza   
Iran has seized a UAE-bound chemical tanker in the strait of Hormuz, further stoking already heightened tensions in the Mideast Gulf. The strait is a major shipping and trading lane connecting the Mideast Gulf with the Indian Ocean, through which around 20mn b/d of crude and oil products passes.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) navy seized a South Korean ship because of oil pollution in the Gulf, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) today said that there was an "interaction" between Iranian authorities and a merchant vessel between 0615 and 0733 GMT within the strait of Hormuz.

"The merchant vessel made an alteration of course north and proceeded into Iranian Territorial Waters," the UKMTO said.

Vortexa shows that the South Korean-flagged Hunkuk Chemi, a 17,427 dwt chemical tanker, departed Jubail in Saudi Arabia yesterday, and was to arrive at Fujairah at 18:30 local time today. It is now heading towards Iran's Bandar Abbas port. The tanker is fully loaded, but it is unclear what the cargo is.

This comes ahead of a trip to Tehran by South Korea's deputy finance minister, during which talks will be held on Iranian funds that are frozen by South Korean banks.

The seizure comes just days after Iraqi bomb disposal experts successfully removed a limpet mine from a fuel oil tanker near its southern crude oil export terminals.

The US blamed Iran for attacks in 2019 on tankers near the strait of Hormuz using limpet mines. Tehran has rejected this. Those attacks hit the Front Altair, which was carrying a naphtha cargo from the UAE to Taiwan, and the chemical tanker Kokuka Courageous that was loaded with methanol. It also cited Iran for another 2019 incident — during which a very large crude carrier (VLCC), an Aframax, a Handymax and a bunkering vessel were damaged off the coast of the UAE.

The IRGC seized the UK-flagged Stena Impero in the strait of Hormuz in July 2019, and held it until September of that year. Iran said the IRGC detained the Stena Impero for "breaches of maritime law", and denied a UK assertion that it was in retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar two weeks earlier.

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