The Iranian navy’s largest warship caught fire and sank in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday, June 2, the latest disaster to befall one of the country’s ships in latest years as conflicts with the West have escalated.
The fire broke out around 2:25 a.m., and firefighters attempted to put it out, but they could not preserve the Kharg, a 207-meter (679-foot) ship used to replenish other ships in the fleet at sea and conduct training drills, reports the Fars media organization. According to official media, the crew of approximately 400 people escaped the vessel, with about 20 of them being injured.
The Associated Press studied satellite photographs from Planet Labs Inc. that revealed the Kharg off the coast of the Iranian port of Jask running regularly late Tuesday morning, June 1.
Sailors wearing life jackets departing the vessel as a blaze flared behind them were photographed and posted on Iranian social networks. Early Wednesday morning, June 2, Fars media released a video of heavy, dark smoke coming from the warship.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s satellites, which track flames from orbit, identified a blaze near Jask that began just before the fire described by Fars.
Officials from Iran provided no explanation for the incident aboard the Kharg. However, they also began an investigation.
The Kharg serving as Iran’s primary oil terminal was described as a “training ship” by state television and semiofficial news organizations.
The Kharg likes much of Iran’s key military gear, predated the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It was one of the Iranian navy’s few ships able to replenish other vessels while at sea. It can also carry big loads and function as a helicopter runway.
After prolonged talks, the battleship built in the United Kingdom and launched in 1977 was accepted into the Iranian navy in 1984.
Iran’s newest naval calamity is the loss of the Kharg. A rocket accidentally damaged a naval vessel near Jask in 2020 during an Iranian army training exercise, killing 19 sailors and injuring 15.
The navy has recently turned the Makran, a slightly larger commercial tanker, into a mobile helicopter launch pad.
However, Mike Connell of the Center for Naval Analysis, an Arlington, Virginia-based nationally sponsored nonprofit that serves the US government, believes the larger ship won’t be able to fulfill the function of the Kharg.
In the past, the Kharg was able to pass through the Suez Canal on its way to the Mediterranean Sea and South Asia.
“For the regular Iranian navy, this vessel was very valuable because it gave them reach,” Connell claimed. “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.”