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Iran Agrees To Release Crew Members Of Detained South Korean Ship

The South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi was seized by Iranian authorities on January 4

Iran has agreed to allow the crew members of a South Korean vessel it seized for allegedly polluting the environment to leave the country,

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh was quoted by state media on February 2 as saying Tehran was releasing the crew of 20 as a "humanitarian move."

"Following a request by the South Korean government...the crew of the Korean ship, which was detained on charges of causing environmental pollution in the Persian Gulf, have received permission to leave the country in a humanitarian move by Iran," Khatibzadeh said.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) seized the South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi on January 4 and detained its crew near the strategic Strait of Hormuz over pollution violations -- an allegation rejected by the ship's operator.

The move came amid tensions over Iranian funds frozen in Seoul because of U.S. sanctions.

The frozen assets stem from oil sales earned before Washington tightened sanctions on Iran following the U.S. withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

The Iranian government has rejected allegations that the seizure of the tanker amounted to hostage taking.