One of Iran's largest naval ships sank Wednesday after catching fire while on a "training mission" of a strategic port near the head of the Gulf, the navy said.
The British-built fleet replenishment vessel Kharg, which measured more than 200 metres (more than 650 feet) long, caught fire on Tuesday off the port of Jask on the Sea of Oman, the navy said. Footage aired by state television showed a massive column of smoke rising from what it said was the burning vessel. The fire broke out in "one of the systems" of the ship, a navy statement said without elaborating. Firefighting efforts continued "for 20 hours" before the ship went down.
"Considering the spread of the fire, the mission to save the Kharg failed and it sank in waters off Jask," the navy said. The ship caught fire at 11 am (0630 GMT) on Tuesday as it was in "domestic waters" during "a training mission", Iran's Tasnim news agency quoted the navy's head of public relations Behzad Jahanian as saying. It sank at around 8:30 am (0400 GMT) on Wednesday.
All 400 cadets and crew disembarked safely, with 20 sustaining light injuries or burns. Jahanian said the cause of the fire was "still not clear".
The vessel was ordered from Britain in 1976 when the pro-Western shah was still in power. It was not delivered until 1984 after years of wrangling between Britain and the government that took power after the Islamic revolution of 1979. Jeremy Binnie of open-source defence intelligence provider Janes said the Kharg was important to Iran as its only dedicated vessel able to resupply warships at sea.
"The Iranians often describe it as a 'helicopter carrier' but it is actually a replenishment ship - a useful asset nonetheless as it was the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy's only dedicated ship serving this role," Binnie said. "It is not the IRIN's largest vessel anymore after they commissioned Makran, a converted oil tanker, in January," he added. Iran's ISNA news agency said the vessel had left for a mission focused on "training, intelligence and combat" alongside the destroyer Alborz on May 19. - Strategic waters - The port city of Jask, near which the Kharg went down, lies close to the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic chokepoint at the head of the Gulf through which a fifth of world oil output passes.