Kharg, Iran’s largest ship, catches fire in unexplained circumstances and sinks in the Gulf of Oman


Tehran, Iran – The Iranian Navy’s largest warship caught fire and sank later on Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semi-official news outlets reported.

Fars and Tasnim news outlets said efforts to rescue the 679-foot-long support ship Kharg, named after the island that serves as Iran’s main oil terminal.

The Reuters news agency reported that the entire crew was able to disembark safely. Reuters quoted Fars as quoting a statement from the Navy. The statement said the Kharg was on a training mission.

The fire started around 2.25 a.m. and firefighters tried to contain it, state television said. The ship sank near the Iranian port of Jask, about 790 miles southeast of Tehran in the Gulf of Oman and near the Strait of Hormuz – the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Agence France-Presse reported the Navy said the fire fighting operations lasted 20 hours before the ship went down.

The Iranian naval support ship Kharg in the Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on February 27, 2020.

Anton Raharjo / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Photos were circulating on Iranian social media of sailors wearing life jackets evacuating the ship when a fire burned behind them.

Fars posted a 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. US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites tracking fires from space discovered a fire at the Jask site that broke out shortly before the fire reported by Fars.

Fire of the Iranian Navy
The image from a video released by on June 2, 2021 shows smoke rising from the Iranian naval support ship Kharg in the Gulf of Oman. Kharg, the largest ship in the Iranian Navy, caught fire and later sank under unexplained circumstances in the Gulf of Oman, semi-official news outlets reported. via AP

The Kharg serves as one of the few ships in the Iranian Navy that can supply its other ships at sea with supplies. It can also lift heavy cargo and act as a take-off point for helicopters.

The ship, built in Great Britain and launched in 1977, joined the Iranian Navy in 1984 after lengthy negotiations following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979.

The Iranian Navy normally patrols 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 as the Kharg.

Iranian officials gave no cause for the fire on board the Kharg. However, it comes after a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 and targeted ships in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. Navy later accused Iran of attacking the ships with mines, timed explosives that are usually attached to the hull of a ship by divers.

Iran denied targeting the ships, despite footage from the U.S. Navy showing members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard removing an unexploded limpus mine from a ship.

The incidents occurred amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran after then-President Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from Tehran’s nuclear deal with the world powers.

In April, an Iranian ship named MV Saviz, believed to be a wax base and anchored in the Red Sea off Yemen for years, was believed to have been attacked by Israel. Years of shadow war between the two countries escalated in the waters of the Middle East.

The sinking of the Kharg marks the most recent maritime disaster for Iran. In 2020, during an Iranian military exercise, a missile accidentally hit a naval ship near the port of Jask, killing 19 sailors and injuring 15. Also in 2018, an Iranian naval destroyer sank in the Caspian Sea.

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