South Korean envoys en route to Iran after tanker seizure

South Korean envoys en route to Iran after tanker seizure
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A South Korean delegation led by Koh Kyung-sok (L), director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's Africa and Middle Eastern affairs, leaves for Tehran via Qatar at Incheon international airport, west of Seoul, on January 6, 2021. (AFP)
South Korean envoys en route to Iran after tanker seizure
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A South Korean delegation led by Koh Kyung-sok (C), director-general of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's Africa and Middle Eastern affairs, leaves for Tehran via Qatar at Incheon international airport, west of Seoul, on January 6, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 07 January 2021

South Korean envoys en route to Iran after tanker seizure

South Korean envoys en route to Iran after tanker seizure
  • South Korean anti-piracy unit deployed near Strait of Hormuz to ensure crew’s safety
  • The vessel’s crew of 20 are all reportedly safe

SEOUL: A Seoul government delegation sent to Tehran on Thursday will attempt to secure the release of a South Korean oil tanker seized by Iranian authorities near the Strait of Hormuz, the foreign ministry’s top official said.
The South Korean-flagged MT Hankuk Chemi with 20 crew members on board was traveling from Saudi Arabia to the UAE when it was intercepted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Monday and taken to the port of Bandar Abbas.
According to Iran, the ship violated environmental protocols — claims that the vessel’s operator has denied.
“We will ask them to exchange due evidence or data to verify the facts,” Koh Kyung-sok, South Korea’s director-general of Africa and Middle East affairs, told reporters before boarding a plane at Incheon International Airport, west of the capital.
Koh, who is leading the delegation, said that besides meeting their Iranian counterparts, Korean diplomats will hold talks with other Iranian stakeholders to resolve the issue.
The delegation will travel to Iran via Qatar.  
While officials in Seoul say they are seeking a diplomatic solution to the standoff, the South Korean navy’s anti-piracy unit was deployed in waters near the Strait of Hormuz on Tuesday to “ensure the safety” of Korean nationals on board the MT Hankuk Chemi.
The vessel’s crew of 20 includes nationals from South Korea, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam. All are reportedly safe.
It remains unclear if negotiations between the South Korean delegation and Iranian authorities will be successful.
When Seoul announced the plan to send the delegation earlier this week, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, was quoted by the state news agency IRNA as saying that the South Korean government’s behavior is “incomprehensible.”
Khatibzadeh claimed that the matter is moving “along its legal path and does not require a diplomatic trip.”
Diplomatic sources and South Korean experts believe the ship’s seizure is linked to tensions over the freezing of Iran’s money in South Korean banks under US financial sanctions.  
Iranian assets worth $7 billion in two Korean bank accounts have been frozen after the Trump administration withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal with Tehran in 2018 and toughened sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
In an effort to end the impasse, Seoul and Tehran discussed using the frozen money to purchase $1 billion of medical equipment. Iran has also reportedly requested the use of $10 million or more from the frozen assets to buy coronavirus vaccines from the global vaccine procurement facility COVAX.  
Jung Sang-ryul, a professor at the Institute of Middle Eastern Affairs at Myongji University in Seoul, believes that the current standoff will be solved through diplomatic channels.
“There is a high possibility the confrontation will be settled diplomatically,” he told Arab News, adding that Seoul-Tehran relations are unlikely to be compromised by the incident.  
The two countries enjoy strong economic ties, with South Korea the third-largest importer of Iranian oil in 2017. South Korea also became the biggest buyer of Iranian condensate, which its petrochemical industry processed in refineries designed to handle the commodity.  
However, following US sanctions, South Korea’s oil imports from Iran fell from $7.8 billion to $2.1 billion by 2019 with no further imports last year.  
“Relations between the US and Iran are the problem, not between South Korean and Iran,” Jung said.


UAE confirms 3,407 new COVID-19 cases, 7 additional deaths

UAE confirms 3,407 new COVID-19 cases, 7 additional deaths
Updated 33 min 58 sec ago

UAE confirms 3,407 new COVID-19 cases, 7 additional deaths

UAE confirms 3,407 new COVID-19 cases, 7 additional deaths
  • Daily total of cases hits record high for 4th day, recent rises attributed to ‘intensified investigation and increase in testing’
  • Kuwait records 530 cases and 1 death, Bahrain reports 209 cases and 1 death

DUBAI: The UAE recorded 3,407 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the fourth day in a row that the daily total has hit a new high. An additional seven people have died of virus-related causes.
Officials from the Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said the total number of cases has reached 246,376, and the death toll stands at 733. A further 3,168 people recovered from the virus in the preceding 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 218,988.
The ministry attributed the sharp rise in the number of cases over the past few days to “intensified investigation and examination procedures and an increase in testing at the state level.”
Officials said that more than 138,000 people were vaccinated in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number that has received the first of the two doses that are required to about 1.66 million. Authorities in the UAE have said that they plan to vaccinate 50 percent of the population by April, with priority given to those over the age of 60 or suffering from chronic diseases.

The Department of Social Services, in cooperation with Sharjah Medical District, said it has received 800,700 applications for the COVID-19 vaccine from senior citizens and individuals with disabilities and mental illnesses, and their families. The vaccinations will be administered in their homes in Sharjah.
Afaf Al-Marri, the head of the department, said officials have been working to launch a number of initiatives designed to protect the health and safety of senior citizens since the pandemic began. He added that the launch of the home-vaccination service is one of the most important initiatives, designed to help some of the most vulnerable people.
During daily inspection tours, Dubai Economy issued fines to nine commercial establishments for failing to adhere to COVID-19 precautions. Inspection teams found 732 businesses to be compliant.
Abu Dhabi Media Office has released guidelines and a video explaining coronavirus precautions that should be taken when camping in the desert.

Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) said it aims to support efforts to overcome the exceptional global effects of the pandemic by “uniting and supporting all segments of society, adopting common humanitarian values and strengthening cooperation with various local and international entities to accelerate the process of digital transformation and automate procedures for customers and employees alike.”

The authority said it is using all of its capabilities and resources to support national efforts to slow the spread of the virus. Its efforts include providing logistical support to the health and community sectors in the emirate, and a large number of employees have volunteered to support those who provide the first line of defense against the disease.
Saeed Mohammed Al-Tayer, DEWA’s managing director and CEO, said the “contribution of the authority’s employees embodies the highest forms of effective popular participation, cooperation, solidarity and community cohesion that characterizes the UAE.”
Elsewhere, Kuwait reported 530 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 156,964. The death toll rose to 947, with one additional death was reported in the previous 24 hours.

In Bahrain, one death was reported, raising the death toll to 357, while 209 new infected cases were confirmed.