Semi-official news agencies reported that the Iranian Navy's largest warship caught fire and later sank in the Gulf of Oman on Wednesday under unclear circumstances.
Fars and Tasnim news agencies said efforts to salvage the support battleship Kharag, named after the island that serves as the main oil terminal for Iran, had 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 Jask, about 790 miles southeast of Tehran, near the Strait of Hormuz on the Gulf of Oman - the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.
Images of sailors wearing life jackets were circulated on Iranian social media, who took 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 emanating from the ship early Wednesday.
Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc., analyzed by the Associated Press, showed Kharag to the west of Jask on Tuesday. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellites that track fires from space detected a fire at the site of Jask that started just before the time of the fires 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.
Iran's navy usually patrols the Gulf of Oman and the wider seas, while the country's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard operates in the Strait of Hormuz and shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. In recent months, however, the Navy launched a slightly larger commercial tanker called the Makran, which was converted to perform a similar function to the Kharag.
Image: Personnel aboard Iran's naval support ship Kharag after a fire in the Gulf of Oman,
The warship, built in Britain and launched in 1977, entered the Iranian Navy in 1984 after long negotiations following Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Asriran.com / AP
Iranian officials did not give a reason for the fire in Kharag.
However, it comes after a series of mysterious explosions targeting ships in the area. Israel and Iran have blamed each other for alleged attacks on cargo ships since late February, escalating a year-long shadow war between the two countries in Middle East waters.
Iran has refused to recognize Israel since its Islamic Revolution in 1979, which toppled the US-backed Shah. Israel sees Iran's nuclear program as a threat to its existence.
Shipping incidents have occurred since President Joe Biden took office in January, pledging to renegotiate Iran's 2015 nuclear control agreement with world powers - in a move welcomed by former President Donald Trump to Israel Abandoned - if Tehran returns in full compliance with the agreement.
The sinking of Kharag also 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.