Iran’s largest warship has just been set ablaze
Kharg, a tanker and refueller that the Iranian fleet also used as a helicopter carrier, suffered an internal fire early Wednesday while sailing in the Gulf of Oman near the port of Jask. Efforts to extinguish the fire failed and it appears the ship is a total loss.
It is not known whether there were any casualties among the approximately 250 crew members.
This loss is bad news for Tehran’s besieged fleet which, due to sanctions and lack of resources, is struggling to acquire new ships.
Kharg was nothing new, but it was among the most versatile ships in Iran’s regular fleet. And at 680 feet and 33,000 tons of displacement when fully loaded, she was by far the largest ship in the Navy.
A second Iranian fleet, the maritime arm of the Revolutionary Guard Corps militia, operates mainly armed speedboats.
Tehran has acquired Kharg from the British shipbuilder Swan Hunter in 1984. Technically, Kharg was a refueller, a floating fuel depot for other ships. But thanks to its hangar and relatively large flight deck – large enough to carry one of Iran’s former SH-3 helicopters – it was also Iran’s closest thing to an aircraft carrier. .
Kharg led some of Iran’s most ambitious naval adventures. In 2009, he sailed to the East African coast as part of Tehran’s campaign against Somali pirates. It is off the Somali coast that Kharg had a close encounter with the American destroyer USS Donald cook, herself on patrol for the pirates.
Beaten by sanctions and the occasional shooting war with the Americans, the Iranian navy is struggling to maintain its strength. The service succeeded in producing improved copies of its 1970s British corvettes. When it comes to supporting ships, the fleet tends to incorporate and modify older commercial vessels.
Iran recently started operating the 22-year-old former merchant vessel Saviz as mothership for outboards. Saviz, which moves 16,700 tonnes at full load, has recently been occupied off the coast of Yemen, apparently aiding Houthi rebels in the war-torn country.
Saviz, a crude analogue of the giant ships at the US Navy’s sea base, appears to lack aviation facilities. KhargThe destruction of ‘leaves a significant void in the Iranian fleet.