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Fire breaks out in Iran’s largest naval ship, sinks in Gulf of Oman

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TEHRAN, Iran – The largest Iranian Navy ship caught fire and later sank in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday under unclear circumstances, semi-official news agencies reported.

Fars and Tasnim news agencies said efforts to rescue the support ship Kharag, named after the island that serves as the main oil terminal for Iran, failed.

Fars said the fire started around 2:25 a.m. and firefighters tried to put it under control. The ship sank near the Iranian port of Zask, about 1,270 kilometers (790 mi) southeast of Tehran, near the Strait of Hormuz on the Gulf of Oman – the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Images circulated on Iranian social media of sailors wearing life jackets taking out the ship as a fire burning behind them. State TV and semi-official news agencies referred to Kharag as a “training ship”. Fars published a video of thick, dark smoke billowing out of the ship early Wednesday.

Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc., analyzed by the Associated Press, showed Kharag to the west of Jask on Tuesday. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites tracking the fire from space detected a fire at the site of Jask that started just before the time of the fire reported by Fares.

Kharag serves as one of the few ships of the Iranian Navy capable of providing replenishment at sea for its other ships. It can also lift heavy cargo and serve as a launch point for helicopters. The ship, built in Britain and launched in 1977, entered the Iranian Navy in 1984 after long negotiations following Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iranian officials did not give any reason for the fire in Kharag. However, it comes after a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 targeting ships in the Gulf of Oman. The US Navy later accused Iran of targeting ships with lame mines, timed explosives usually attached to a ship’s hull by divers.

Iran denied targeting the ships, although US Navy footage showed members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard removing an unexplained lame mine from a ship. 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.

The sinking of Kharag marks the latest naval disaster for Iran. During an Iranian military training exercise in 2020, a missile accidentally hit a naval vessel near the port of Jask, killing 19 sailors and injuring 15. Also in 2018, an Iranian naval destroyer sank in the Caspian Sea.

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Gambrel reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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