Iran’s Largest Warship Catches Fire And Sinks, In The Gulf of Oman

TEHRAN, Iran — Under mysterious circumstances, Iran’s Largest Warship caught fire and sunk in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday, the latest tragedy to hit one of the country’s vessels in recent years amid tensions with the West.

According to the Fars news agency, the fire started about 2:25 a.m., and firemen tried to put it out, but they were unable to preserve the 207-meter (679-foot) Kharg, which was used to replenish other ships in the navy at sea and perform training drills. According to state media, the warship was evacuated with 400 sailors and trainee cadets on board, 33 of whom were injured.

The ship sunk at the Iranian port of Jask, some 1,270 kilometers (790 miles) southeast of Tehran in the Gulf of Oman, near the narrow opening of the Persian Gulf known as the Strait of Hormuz. The Associated Press studied satellite photographs from Planet Labs Inc. that showed the Kharg off the coast of Jask with no evidence of a fire as late as 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Sailors wearing life jackets fleeing the vessel while a fire flared behind them, according to photos shared on Iranian social media. Early Wednesday morning, Fars tweeted a video of heavy, black smoke coming from the ship. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s satellites, which track flames from orbit, identified a burning near Jask that began immediately before the fire reported by Fars.

Officials from Iran provided no explanation for the incident aboard the Kharg, however, they did say an inquiry had begun.

Meanwhile, a large fire broke out at an oil refinery servicing Iran’s capital on Wednesday night, sending thick columns of black smoke into the sky. Although temperatures in the capital reached over 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), and hot summer weather in Iran has caused fires in the past, it was not immediately known if there were any injuries or what sparked the blaze at the Tondgooyan Petrochemical Co.

The fire aboard the Kharg warship occurred on Wednesday, following a series of strange explosions in the Gulf of Oman that began in 2019. The US Navy accused Iran of using limpet mines, which are timed explosives normally placed to a ship’s hull by divers.

Despite videotape from the US Navy showing Revolutionary Guard men removing one unexploded limpet mine from a ship, Iran denied this. The strikes occurred at a time when tensions between the United States and Iran were at an all-time high after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled America out of the Iran nuclear deal with international powers. In Vienna, talks to save the agreement are still ongoing.

In April, an Iranian ship dubbed the MV Saviz, which had been stranded in the Red Sea near Yemen for years and was thought to be a Guard base, was attacked by Israel. It intensified a years-long shadow war between the two nations in the Middle East, which included strikes in Syria, assaults on ships, and attacks on Iran’s nuclear program.

A request for comment from the Israeli prime minister’s office on the Kharg went unanswered on Wednesday. The US was informed of the ship’s loss, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby, but he declined to speak further.

The Kharg, named after the island that serves as Iran’s primary oil port, was described as a “training ship” by state television and semiofficial news outlets on Wednesday. On the Caspian Sea, the warship frequently entertained cadets from the Imam Khomeini Naval University.

The Kharg, like much of Iran’s key military gear, predates the 1979 Islamic Revolution. After prolonged talks, the battleship, which was constructed in the United Kingdom and launched in 1977, was accepted into the Iranian navy in 1984. Even as recently as Tuesday, a failure in the ejector seats of an Iranian F-5 from before the revolution killed two pilots while the plane was parked in a hangar.

In recent months, the navy transformed the Makran, a somewhat bigger commercial tanker, into a mobile helicopter launch pad. On a limited scale, the Kharg could also launch helicopters.

But, according to Mike Connell of the Center for Naval Analysis, an Arlington, Virginia-based federally funded charity that works for the US government, the newer vessel won’t be able to fulfil the job of the Kharg, which could manage both refuelling and restocking supplies of ships at sea.

The Kharg was also capable of transporting huge freight via the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea and South Asia in the past.

“This warship was incredibly significant to the regular Iranian navy because it provided them reach,” Connell added. “They were able to undertake activities distant from home as a result of this.” Although they had other logistical ships, the Kharg was the most competent and largest.”

The sinking of the Kharg is Iran’s most recent naval catastrophe. In 2020, a missile accidentally impacted a navy vessel in Jask during an Iranian military training exercise, killing 19 sailors and injuring 15. A warship of the Iranian navy lost in the Caspian Sea in 2018.

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