IRIS Kharg, Iran's Largest Navy Ship, Catches Fire and Sinks in Gulf

Iran's largest warship sank in the Gulf of Oman after catching fire in mysterious circumstances, the country's navy has said.

The IRIS Kharg, a support and supply ship spanning 207 meters (680 feet), caught fire under "mysterious circumstances" at around 2.25 a.m. local time on Wednesday, the semi-official Tasnim News Agency reported. Iranian officials said an investigation had begun into the cause of the fire.

Citing Iran's navy, the news agency reported that all crew on board the vessel had been safely disembarked.

After 20 hours of efforts to save the ship by military and civilian organizations, it sank, Tasnim reported.

The Kharg was being deployed to international waters for a training operation when one of its systems caught fire near the port of Jask, some 1,270km (790 miles) southeast of Tehran on the Gulf of Oman. It is close to the Strait of Hormuz, a busy cargo shipping route in the Persian Gulf.

The Kharg had been in service for more than four decades. The vessel was built in Britain in 1977 and joined Iran's navy in 1984.

Its sinking comes at a tense time for Iran and the U.S., which are engaged in talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and global powers. Former President Donald Trump pulled out of the agreement in 2018 and reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran. Tehran has since suspended limits on uranium enrichment and restricted the activities of international nuclear inspectors.

In May, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the talks had made progress, but Washington had not yet seen whether Iran would comply with its nuclear commitments in order to have sanctions removed. On Monday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran's nuclear stockpile could only be estimated since inspections had been limited in February.

In April, Iran said one of its ships, the MV Saviz, had been targeted in the Red Sea. Media reports said the ship had been attacked by limpet mines, explosives that are often attached by divers to a ship's hull. Iran and U.S. ally Israel have blamed each other for a spate of reported attacks on cargo ships since late February.

The U.S. Navy has also accused Tehran of targeting ships with limpet mines. Iran has denied the charges, despite U.S. footage from June 2019 showing members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps removing one unexploded mine from a vessel.

Newsweek has contacted the Israeli Prime Minister's office and the U.S. State Department for comment.

Iran Kharg navy ship
An Iranian navy special forces guard stands by the Kharg replenishment ship, docked in Port Sudan on October 31, 2012. The Kharg has sunk in the Gulf of Oman after catching fire in mysterious circumstances, the country’s navy said. Ashraf Shazly/Getty