Iran’s navy has called attention to a recent incident in the Gulf of Oman. In an accident involving Iranian naval vessels, 19 sailors have been killed and 15 others injured. The support ship known as Konarak was hit by a new anti-ship missile, which is currently being tested by the frigate Jamaran.
The Konarak is a 47m (154ft) long Hendijan-class logistical support vessel that was made in the Netherlands and bought by Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The accident occurred during an exercise on Sunday, according to a report from the Iranian media.
In the same report, Iranian media reported that the Konarak had been sending targets into the water. During this exercise, the Konarak remained too close to one. In a statement issued by the navy, the ship was brought ashore. Following the ship’s retrieval, an investigation was set into motion. The incident happened near the Strait of Hormuz. Strategically speaking, this waterway is more important than most. Approximately one-fifth of the world’s oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz every year.
On Monday, the Iranian navy issued a statement regarding the exercise and the subsequent accident. The navy stated that “On Sunday evening… during naval exercises performed by a number of the naval force’s vessels in the waters of Jask and Chabahar, an accident happened involving the Konarak light support ship vessel, causing the martyrdom of several brave members of the naval forces.”
The Navy went on to state that the Konarak had been taken from the Gulf of Oman, following the incident, and brought to a port for a “technical inspection”. However, their statement neglected to refer to the actual circumstances of the accident, namely, what happened in the gulf that day.
This isn’t a stand-alone incident. The Iranian armed forces have made their fair share of mistakes, and errors. In one such incident, which occurred in January, an air defense unit fired two surface-to-air missiles at an unidentified target. This firing brought down a Ukrainian airliner and resulted in the deaths of every person that had been on board. This mistake came at a sensitive time, a moment of increased tension when Iran had been expecting a retaliatory U.S. missile strike.
This incident in January occurred in a different circumstance than the one on Sunday. In its sense, Sunday’s incident has brought up political and moral questions, questions regarding command and jurisdiction. Sunday’s incident was a planned naval exercise and brought up international questions regarding the Iranian navy’s professionalism, and perhaps, the lack thereof.
In regards to the new vessel, the frigate Jamaran, a home built ship, is intended to create a new era for Iran’s navy. Iran is setting out to broaden the reach of its naval operations. To do this, Iran is in the process of upgrading it’s warships force and ability, namely, with newer, homemade models.
Ideally, all of this will set out a new course for the navy. But the Jamaran remains a neglected and widely ignored new service. In Iran’s ongoing efforts to harass and monitor the United States’ shipping in the gulf, fast patrol boats have aided them the most. Of these boats, it is those of the revolutionary guards’ flotilla that has factored most.
In a statement made before the current one, Iranian media reported that the Konarak had been struck, albeit accidentally by an anti-ship missile. That missile had been fired by the home built ship Jamaran, during an exercise. This incident occurred near the port of Jask. In this early statement, Iranian state television reported on their website that, “The vessel was hit after moving a practice target to its destination and not creating enough distance between itself and the target.”
Following this statement on Iranian television, state broadcaster Irib put up video footage of the incident’s aftermath on Twitter. The footage revealed extreme damage to multiple structures on Konarak’s deck. In the footage, black smoke can be seen rising from the structures. There is no clear information regarding just how many sailors were on boards at the time. The commanders in chief of the Iranian army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Maj Gen Abdolrahim Mousavi and Maj Gen Hossein Salami, expressed their condolences to the families of the sailors who died.
Though these leaders have expressed their condolences, it is unclear whether measures will be made to support the families of the deceased soldiers. Besides, no closing statement has been made, as to whether the Iranian navy will make amends following the incident, or whether it was an accident at all.