The largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported.
The Fars and Tasnim news agencies said efforts failed to save the support warship Kharg, named after the island that serves as the main oil terminal for Iran.
The blaze began around 2:25 a.m. and firefighters tried to contain it, Fars said. The vessel sank near the Iranian port of Jask, some 790 miles southeast of Tehran on the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz — the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
Photos circulated on Iranian social media of sailors wearing life jackets evacuating the vessel as a fire burned behind them. State TV and semiofficial news agencies referred to the Kharg as a “training ship.” Fars published video of thick, black smoke rising from the ship early Wednesday morning.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. analyzed by The Associated Press showed the Kharg off to the west of Jask on Tuesday. Satellites from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that track fires from space detected a blaze at the site of the Jask that started just before the time of the fire reported by Fars.
The Kharg serves as one of a few vessels in the Iranian navy capable of providing replenishment at sea for its other ships. It also can lift heavy cargo and serve as a launch point for helicopters.
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. In recent months, however, the navy launched a slightly larger commercial tanker called the Makran it converted into serving a similar function as the Kharg.
Iranian officials offered no cause for the fire aboard the Kharg.
However, it comes after a series of mysterious explosions targeting ships in the region. Israel and Iran have blamed each other for reported attacks on cargo ships since late February, escalating a yearslong shadow war in Mideast waters between the two countries
Iran has refused to recognize Israel since its Islamic Revolution in 1979 that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah. Israel sees Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to its existence.
The shipping incidents have occurred since President Joe Biden took office in January, pledging to rejoin Iran’s 2015 nuclear containment deal with world powers — abandoned by former President Donald Trump in a move welcomed by Israel — if Tehran returns to full compliance with the accord.
The sinking of the Kharg also marks the latest naval disaster for Iran.
In 2020 during an Iranian military training exercise, a missile mistakenly struck a naval vessel near the port of Jask, killing19 sailors and wounding 15. Also in 2018, an Iranian navy destroyer sank in the Caspian Sea.