The largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank on Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semi-official news agencies have reported.

The Fars and Tasnim news agencies said efforts failed to save the support warship Kharg, named after the island that serves as the main oil terminal for Iran.

The blaze began at about 2:25 am and firefighters tried to contain it, Fars said. The vessel sank near the Iranian port of Jask, about 1,270km (790 miles) south-east of Tehran on the Gulf of Oman near the strait of Hormuz – the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Photos circulated on Iranian social media of sailors wearing lifejackets evacuating the vessel as a fire burned behind them. State TV and semi-official news agencies referred to the Kharg as a “training ship”. Fars published video of thick, black smoke rising from the ship early on Wednesday morning.

Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc analysed by the Associated Press showed the Kharg off to the west of Jask on Tuesday. Satellites from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that track fires from space detected a blaze at the site of the Jask that started just before the time of the fire reported by Fars.

An image made available by the Iranian state TV (IRIB) website appears to show smoke rising from the Kharg.
An image made available by the Iranian state TV (IRIB) website appears to show smoke rising from the Kharg. Photograph: Iran State Tv Irib Handout/EPA

The Kharg is one of a few vessels in the Iranian navy capable of providing replenishment at sea for its other ships. It can also lift heavy cargo and serve as a launch point for helicopters. The warship, built in Britain and launched in 1977, entered the Iranian navy in 1984 after lengthy negotiations that followed Iran‘s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s navy typically handles patrols in the Gulf of Oman and the wider seas, while the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards operate in the shallower waters of the strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf. In recent months, however, the navy launched a slightly larger commercial tanker called the Makran it converted into serving a similar function as the Kharg.

Iranian officials offered no cause for the fire onboard the Kharg. However, it follows a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019, targeting ships in the Gulf of Oman. The US Navy later accused Iran of targeting the ships with limpet mines, timed explosives typically attached by divers to a vessel’s hull.

Iran denied targeting the vessels, though US Navy footage showed Revolutionary Guards members removing one unexploded limpet mine from a vessel. The incidents came amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran after the then president, Donald Trump, unilaterally withdrew the US from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

In April, an Iranian ship called the MV Saviz believed to be a Guard base and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen was targeted in an attack suspected to have been carried out by Israel. It escalated a years-long shadow war in Middle-East waters between the two countries.

The sinking of the Kharg marks the latest naval disaster for Iran. In 2020, during an Iranian military training exercise, a missile mistakenly struck a naval vessel near the port of Jask, killing 19 sailors and wounding 15. In 2018, an Iranian navy destroyer sank in the Caspian Sea.


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