Iran’s largest war ship the Kharg sank on Wednesday after catching fire in the Gulf of Oman, but the crew were safely rescued, Iranian media reported.
No further explanation was given for the latest incident in a region of sensitive waterways, where there have been accusations of attacks on ships owned by arch-enemies Iran and Israel. The Gulf of Oman connects to the Strait of Hormuz where about a fifth of the world’s oil passes.
The blaze began around 2:25 a.m. and firefighters tried to contain it, the Fars news agency reported, but their efforts failed to save the 207-meter (679-foot) Kharg, which was used to resupply other ships in the fleet at sea and conduct training exercises. State media reported 400 troops on board fled the vessel, with some 20 suffering injuries.
The vessel sank near the Iranian port of Jask, some 1,270 kilometers (790 miles) southeast of Tehran on the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz — the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf. Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. analyzed by The Associated Press showed the Kharg off Jask with no sign of a fire as late as 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Photos circulated on Iranian social media of sailors wearing life jackets evacuating the vessel as a fire burned behind them. Fars published video of thick, black smoke rising from the ship early Wednesday morning. Satellites from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that track fires from space detected a blaze near Jask that started just before the time of the fire reported by Fars.
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 yearslong shadow war in the Mideast between the two countries, ranging from strikes in Syria, assaults on ships and attacks on Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran has refused to recognize Israel since its Islamic Revolution in 1979 that toppled the US-backed Shah. Israel sees Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to its existence.
The shipping incidents have occurred since U.S. President Joe Biden took office in January, pledging to rejoin Iran’s 2015 nuclear containment deal with six world powers – abandoned by his predecessor Donald Trump in a move welcomed by Israel – if Tehran returns to full compliance with the accord.
Like much of Iran’s major military hardware, the Kharg dated back to before Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution. The warship, built in Britain and launched in 1977, entered the Iranian navy in 1984 after lengthy negotiations. That aging military equipment has seen fatal accidents as recently as Tuesday, when a malfunction in the ejector seats of an Iranian F-5 dating back to before the revolution killed two pilots while the aircraft was parked in a hangar.
In recent months, the navy launched a slightly larger commercial tanker called the Makran that it converted into serving a similar function as the Kharg.
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 Jask, killing 19 sailors and wounding 15. Also, in 2018, an Iranian navy destroyer sank in the Caspian Sea.