The Iranian navy’s largest warship caught fire and sank in unclear circumstances in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday, semi-official news agencies have reported.
The Fars and Tasnim agencies said efforts failed to save the support ship Kharg, named after the island that serves as Iran’s main oil terminal.
The blaze began at about 2:25 am and firefighters tried to contain it, Fars said. The vessel sank off the Iranian port of Jasknear the strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Gulf.
Photos circulated on Iranian social media of sailors in 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 to the west of Jask on Tuesday. Satellites from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that track fires from space also detected a blaze at the site.
The Kharg is one of a few vessels in the Iranian navy capable of replenishing other ships at sea. It can also lift heavy cargo and serve as a launch point for helicopters. The vessel, 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 had converted to serve a similar function to the Kharg.
Iranian officials offered no cause for the fire, but it follows a series of mysterious explosions targeting ships in the Gulf of Oman that began in 2019. The US later accused Iran of targeting the ships with limpet mines.
Iran denied targeting the vessels, though US footage showed Revolutionary Guards members removing one unexploded limpet mine from a vessel. The incidents came at a time of heightened tensions between the Washington and Tehran after Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
The MV Saviz, an Iranian ship believed to be a Revolutionary Guard base and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen was targeted in an attack in April suspected to have been the work of 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 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.