Iran’s largest naval warship caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday under unclear circumstances, semi-official news agencies reported.
News agencies Fars and Tasnim said the efforts failed to save the support warship Kharg, named after the island that serves as Iran’s main oil terminal.
The blaze started around 2:25 a.m. and firefighters attempted to contain it, Fars said. The ship sank near the Iranian port of Jask, some 1,270 kilometers (790 miles) southeast of Tehran, in 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 life jackets evacuating the ship as a fire burned behind them. State television and semi-official news agencies have called the Kharg a “training ship”. Fars posted video of thick black smoke rising from the ship early Wednesday morning.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. analyzed by the Associated Press showed the Kharg west of Jask on Tuesday. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites tracking the fires from space detected a fire at the Jask site that began just before the fire reported by Fars.
The Kharg is one of the few ships of the Iranian Navy capable of supplying its other ships at sea. 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 following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.
The Iranian navy typically operates 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 has launched a slightly larger commercial tanker called the Makran, which it has converted to perform a similar function to the Kharg.
Iranian officials have given no cause for the fire aboard the Kharg. However, it comes after a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 targeting ships in the Gulf of Oman. The US Navy then accused Iran of targeting ships with limpet mines, timed explosives typically attached by divers to the hull of a ship.
Iran has denied targeting the ships, although U.S. Navy footage showed members of the Revolutionary Guards removing an unexploded limpet mine from a ship. The incidents came amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America 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 the target of an attack believed to have been carried out by Israel. He escalated a multi-year phantom war in Middle Eastern 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 warship near the port of Jask, killing 19 sailors and injuring 15. Also in 2018, an Iranian navy destroyer sank in the Caspian Sea.