Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Biggest ship in Iran’s navy catches fire, sinks in unexplained circumstances

Iranian officials offered no cause for the fire but it comes after a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 affecting ships in the Gulf of Oman.

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The largest ship in the Iranian navy caught fire and sank on Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semi-official Iranian news agencies are reporting.

The Fars and Tasnim news agencies said efforts failed to save the support ship Kharg which was on a training mission.

Reuters reported that the entire crew was able to safely disembark during a 20-hour battle to save the burning ship.

Iranian state TV said the vessel sank near the Iranian port of Jask in the Gulf of Oman, near the Strait of Hormuz – the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which giant tankers carrying much of the world’s crude oil pass continuously.

Satellites from the US 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.

The Kharg was one of very few vessels in the Iranian navy capable of providing replenishment at sea for its other ships. It also served as a launch point for helicopters.

The ship, built in Britain and launched in 1977, entered the Iranian navy in 1984 after lengthy negotiations that followed Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s navy typically handles patrols in the Gulf of Oman and the wider seas, while the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard operates in the shallower waters of the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf.

Iranian officials offered no cause for the fire aboard the Kharg but it comes after a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 affecting ships in the Gulf of Oman.

The US Navy later accused Iran of targeting the ships with limpet mines, timed explosives typically attached by divers to a vessel’s hull. Iran denied targeting the vessels, though US Navy footage showed members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing one unexploded limpet mine from a vessel.

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

In April, an Iranian ship 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 years-long shadow war in Mideast waters between the two countries.

The sinking of the Kharg marks the latest naval disaster for Iran. In 2020 during a military training exercise, a missile mistakenly struck a naval vessel near the port of Jask, killing 19 sailors and wounding 15. Also in 2018, an Iranian navy destroyer sank in the Caspian Sea.

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