A vessel reported to be the largest in the Iranian Navy caught fire and sunk in the Gulf of Oman near Iran’s southern port of Jask. The supply ship Khark was reportedly operating a training exercise in international waters not far from the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranian Navy said that 400 personnel were evacuated by ship and helicopter, with only 20 sailors suffering minor injuries.
The circumstances of the incident are unclear, but the Iranian Fars News Agency is citing information from the Iranian Navy that it began as an engine room fire. The timing of the incident is also unclear as the Iranians reported it began around 11 a.m. local time on June 1, while international media is timing the fire to 2:25 a.m. on June 2. Images from Iranian TV shows smoke billowing from the vessel offshore.
The Iranian Navy said that its crew, assisted by other vessels and resources from shore, fought the fire for 20 hours, but that it continued to spread to other areas beyond the engine room. Mehr News is quoting an army press spokesman, Behzad Jahanian, saying the fire was so intense that the ship’s hull melted. Others are speculating there might have been explosions.
International reports confirmed that the 679-foot Kharg sunk around 8: 30 a.m. local time on June 2.
The Kharg had a checkered history as the vessel was ordered by the Shah of Iran in 1974 to be built by the British shipyard Swan Hunter. The design was based on an oiler, although modified to also operate as a supply ship transporting munitions and other supplies. Construction began in 1976 and she was launched the following year and completing fitting out at the time of the Iranian Revolution. Although the ship was delivered to the Iranian government in 1980, it would take another four years until it was permitted to depart the U.K. and join the Iranian Navy.
Iran reports that in recent years the now forty-year-old vessel had been used for training exercises in addition to its supply ship role. The Iranian Navy said it will investigate the circumstances behind the loss of the vessel.