Tensions are running high between Iran and South Korea after Iranian Revolutionary Guards boarded a South Korean chemical tanker, the MT Hankuk Chemi, and took its 23 crew prisoner.

According to an official release from the Iranian government, the action was taken because the ship had been “polluting the Persian Gulf with chemicals”

An official from DM Shipping, the parent company that owns the tanker, maintains that the ship “did not cause environmental pollution,” and that the Iranian action had taken place “on the high seas” outside Iranian territorial waters.

The Hankuk Chemi is currently impounded at the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran.

The owners of the Hankuk Chemi maintain that it was not leaking any chemicals

South Korea’s foreign ministry has demanded that Iran releases the ship and its crew immediately, adding that South Korean forces stationed in the strait of Hormuz are already on their way to the area.

Some observers have connected the seizure with a money row over South Korea's oil payments to Iran.

The aggressive action takes place against a background of renewed nuclear weapons development at the Fordo site in Iran, ratcheting up tensions with the Trump administration.

South Korea's foreign ministry has demanded the 'early release' of the ship and its crew
Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in jet boats seized the South-Korean flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf

Iran’s nuclear move is in violation of an agreement made with the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany in 2015.

Iran is now enriching uranium to up to 20% purity – putting weapons-grade material easily within their reach.

Tensions also exist between Iran and Israel after Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed by a “remote-controlled weapon” in November.

Israel has not publicly commented on the allegations of its involvement.

The tanker's owners insist that she was in international waters at the time of the incident
the Fordow (Fordo) Uranium Conversion Facility in Qom, in the north of Iran
Iran has started the process to enrich uranium to 20% purity at its Fordo facility, going well beyond the threshold set by the 2015 nuclear deal

Meanwhile, the US Navy is moving military assets into position for a potential conflict with Iran. A plan to bring the USS Nimitz home from a lengthy patrol in the Persian Gulf has been scrapped, keeping her on station off the Iranian coast

Acting US Defence Secretary Christopher Miller said Sunday he'd scrapped the plan to bring Nimitz home, because of "recent threats" from Iran.

President-Elect Joe Biden, who will take office on 20 January, has made it clear that the US will rejoin the joint comprehensive plan of action aimed at limiting the development of Iran’s nuclear programme.