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Fire leads to sinking of Iranian warship

by AMIR VAHDAT AND JON GAMBRELL THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | June 3, 2021 at 3:58 a.m.
This undated photo provided by the Iranian army shows navy's support ship Kharg. The Kharg, the largest warship in the Iranian navy, caught fire and later sank Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Iranian army via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran -- The largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, the latest calamity to strike one of the country's vessels in recent years amid tensions with the West.

The blaze began around 2:25 a.m., the Fars news agency reported. Firefighters tried to contain it, according to the news agency, but their efforts failed to save the 679-foot Kharg, which was used to resupply other ships in the fleet at sea and to conduct training exercises. State media reported that 400 sailors and trainee cadets on board fled the vessel, with 33 suffering injuries.

The ship sank near the Iranian port of Jask, some 790 miles southeast of Tehran in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz -- the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf. Satellite photos from Planet Labs Inc. analyzed by The Associated Press showed the Kharg off Jask with no sign of a fire as late as 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Photos circulated on Iranian social media showed sailors wearing life jackets and evacuating the vessel as a fire burned behind them. Fars published video of thick, black smoke rising from the ship early Wednesday. Satellites from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that track fires from space detected a blaze near Jask that started just before the time of the fire reported by Fars.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTzObR2Jg58]

Iranian officials offered no cause for the fire aboard the Kharg, though they said an investigation had begun.

The fire follows a series of mysterious explosions that began in 2019 and targeted commercial ships in the Gulf of Oman. The U.S. Navy accused Iran of targeting the ships with limpet mines, timed explosives typically attached by divers to a vessel's hull.

Iran denied that accusation, though U.S. Navy footage showed Revolutionary Guard members removing one unexploded limpet mine from a ship. The attacks came amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. Negotiations on saving the accord continue in Vienna.

In April, an Iranian ship called the MV Saviz, believed to be a Guard base and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen, was targeted in an attack suspected to have been carried out by Israel. It escalated a yearslong shadow war in the Mideast between the two countries, which has included strikes in Syria, assaults on ships and attacks on Iran's nuclear program.

The Israeli prime minister's office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday regarding the Kharg. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. was aware of the loss of the ship, but he declined to comment further.

Iranian state TV and semiofficial news agencies on Wednesday referred to the Kharg, named after the island that serves as the main oil terminal for Iran, as a "training ship." The vessel often hosted cadets from the Imam Khomeini Naval University on the Caspian Sea.

Like much of Iran's major military hardware, the Kharg dated back to before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The warship, built in Britain and launched in 1977, entered the Iranian navy in 1984 after lengthy negotiations.

Information for this article was contributed by Joseph Krauss and Robert Burns of The Associated Press.

This image made from a video released on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 by Asriran.com, shows smoke rising from Iran's navy support ship Kharg in the Gulf of Oman. Kharg, the largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Asriran.com via AP)
This image made from a video released on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 by Asriran.com, shows smoke rising from Iran's navy support ship Kharg in the Gulf of Oman. Kharg, the largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Asriran.com via AP)
This undated photo provided by the Iranian army shows navy's support ship Kharg. Kharg, the largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Iranian army via AP)
This undated photo provided by the Iranian army shows navy's support ship Kharg. Kharg, the largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Iranian army via AP)
This photo made available by Asriran.com on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 shows personnel standing on Iran's navy support ship Kharg after being caught on fire in the Gulf of Oman. Kharg, the largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Asriran.com via AP)
This photo made available by Asriran.com on Wednesday, June 2, 2021 shows personnel standing on Iran's navy support ship Kharg after being caught on fire in the Gulf of Oman. Kharg, the largest warship in the Iranian navy caught fire and later sank Wednesday in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Asriran.com via AP)
In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc., the Iranian navy's Kharg support ship is seen off the coast of Jask, Iran, Tuesday, June 1, 2021. The Kharg, the largest ship in the Iranian navy, caught fire and later sank Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc., the Iranian navy's Kharg support ship is seen off the coast of Jask, Iran, Tuesday, June 1, 2021. The Kharg, the largest ship in the Iranian navy, caught fire and later sank Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc. the Iranian navy's Kharg support ship is seen off the coast of Jask, Iran, Tuesday, June 1, 2021. The Kharg, the largest ship in the Iranian navy, caught fire and later sank Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
In this satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc. the Iranian navy's Kharg support ship is seen off the coast of Jask, Iran, Tuesday, June 1, 2021. The Kharg, the largest ship in the Iranian navy, caught fire and later sank Wednesday, June 2, 2021 in the Gulf of Oman under unclear circumstances, semiofficial news agencies reported. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
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