JUNE 2, 2021
Iran’s largest navy ship sank early Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman after catching fire, according to Iranian state media, the latest blow to the country’s vital infrastructure and military assets in recent months.
The Kharg had been deployed to international waters to participate in a training exercise when it caught fire near the port of Jask, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency said. The fire had started in the engine room, causing parts of the ship to melt and fall into the sea, state news agency IRNA said.
Rescue workers tried for 20 hours to extinguish the fire but couldn’t prevent it from spreading, Tasnim said, citing Iran’s navy, which added that all of the nearly 400 crew members were evacuated safely from the ship.
Other Iranian media outlets broadcast footage from the Gulf of Oman of what they said was the ship burning in the distance.
Neither outlet reported details of the cause of the fire. The government didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Kharg was an oil replenishment tanker, built to allow smaller vessels to embark on extended deployments by supplying them with fuel and dry stores at sea, and capable of carrying large helicopters. Its logistics capacity also made it able to carry heavy cargo, such as military equipment, which could make it suspicious in the eyes of its enemies, U.S. Navy Commander Joshua Himes wrote for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in 2011.
The ship’s sinking follows a string of recent explosions and fires at key nuclear and military sites, as well as attacks on Iranian naval vessels.
While Tehran hasn’t accused anyone of attacking the vessel, the incident comes amid growing tension between Iran and its regional foes. Israel is opposed to ongoing talks to revive the international nuclear deal with Iran, and is pushing the U.S. to do more to contain what it calls Iran’s malign behavior in the Middle East, including support for militias that threaten Israel.
In recent years, a new front in the confrontation between Iran and Israel has opened up at sea. Since late 2019, Israel has targeted at least a dozen Iranian vessels bound for Syria, U.S. and regional officials say, mostly carrying oil that Israel says funds Iranian-backed extremist groups. Israel’s military has declined to comment on the alleged attacks on Iranian ships.
In July, a blaze at Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas damaged seven ships and raised suspicion of coordinated sabotage.
Iran has also suffered devastating accidents. In May last year, an Iranian warship struck one of the country’s naval vessels during an exercise near a strategic Persian Gulf waterway, killing at least 19 sailors.
Iran has also accused Israel of being behind several recent attacks on its nuclear program, including two fires and explosions on its Natanz nuclear facility, in April and last July, as well as the killing of its top nuclear scientist in November. Israel usually doesn’t comment on such allegations.
The vessel that sank Wednesday, a modified OL-class vessel originally built for the Shah in the late 1970s by the U.K., was part of an aging Iranian fleet that has deteriorated over the years under U.S. and international sanctions. It was delivered to Iran in 1984 and had been in commission since.