The largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman. The cause of the fire is not currently known. Firefighters tried but failed to contain the blaze that destroyed the 679-foot Kharg. The warship was used to carry fuel and supplies to other ships in Iran’s fleet at sea.
The ship sank near the Iranian port of Jask, about 790 miles southeast of Tehran on the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz. That’s the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
Photos circulated on Iranian social media showed sailors wearing life jackets evacuating the vessel as a fire burned behind them. Iran’s state television service 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 as well.
The fire aboard the Kharg warship follows a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 targeting commercial ships in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. Navy accused Iran of targeting the ships with limpet mines—timed explosives typically attached by divers to a vessel’s hull.
Iran denied that, though U.S. Navy footage showed Revolutionary Guard members removing one unexploded limpet mine from a ship. The attacks came amid heightened tensions between the United States and Iran after America withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
In April, an Iranian ship called the MV Saviz was targeted in an attack. That ship was believed to be a Guard base. It was anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen. Iran suspects Israel of carrying out that attack.
The Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday regarding the Kharg. U.S. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the United States was aware of the loss of the ship, but declined to comment further.
In recent months, the Iranian navy converted a slightly larger commercial tanker called the Makran to use it as a mobile launch platform for helicopters. The Kharg also could launch helicopters on a smaller scale. But the newer vessel likely can’t fill the role of the Kharg. The lost ship could handle both refueling and replenishing supplies of other ships at sea, says Mike Connell of the Center for Naval Analysis. That is an Arlington, Virginia-based federally funded nonprofit that works for the U.S. government.
“For the regular Iranian navy, this vessel was very valuable because it gave them reach,” Connell says. “That allowed them to conduct operations far afield. They do have other logistics vessels, but the Kharg was kind of the most capable and the largest.”
He makes wars cease to the end of the Earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariots with fire. — Psalm 46:9
(This image from video shows smoke rising from Iran’s navy support ship Kharg in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Asriran.com via AP)