Huge blaze breaks out at key oil refinery south of Tehran

Huge blaze breaks out at key oil refinery south of Tehran – just hours after another mystery inferno caused Iran’s navy flagship to sink in the Gulf of Oman

  • A huge fire has broken out at the Tondgooyan Petrochemical Co. in south Tehran
  • Officials blamed blaze on a leak in a liquefied gas line that triggered an explosion
  • On Tuesday, a broke out on support vessel Kharg, one of Iran’s largest ships
  • All 400 crew were evacuated as firefighters attempted to put out the blaze 
  • But they could not save the ship, which sank 20 hours later near the port of Jask
  • Come after series of attacks on ships that Iran and Israel blame on one-another

A huge blaze has broken out at an oil refinery in southern Tehran just hours after one of Iran’s largest naval ships sank after catching fire in the Gulf of Oman. 

Officials said the fire at the Tondgooyan Petrochemical Co. was an accident, blaming a leak in a liquefied gas line that triggered an explosion. The cause of the leak is unclear.

Intense flames and plumes of black smoke that had been visible from far across the capital were gradually being brought under control on Wednesday evening, several hours after the fire broke out.

The cause of the fire on the British-built fleet replenishment vessel Kharg is still unclear. 

A navy statement said a fire broke out in ‘one of the systems,’ without elaborating. 

A huge blaze has broken out at an oil refinery in southern Tehran (pictured) just hours after one of Iran’s largest naval ships sank after catching fire in the Gulf of Oman

Officials said the fire at the Tondgooyan Petrochemical Co. was an accident, blaming a leak in a liquefied gas line that triggered an explosion. The cause of the leak is unclear

Intense flames and plumes of black smoke that had been visible from far across the capital were gradually being brought under control on Wednesday evening, several hours after the fire broke out

The fire at the refinery came just hours after a mystery fire broke out on board a large naval vessel, eventually causing it to sink

Footage aired by state television showed a massive column of smoke rising from what it said was the burning vessel. 

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 11:00 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.

Jahanian said the cause of the fire was ‘still not clear’. The vessel sank at around 8:30 am (0400 GMT) on Wednesday.

All 400 cadets and crew disembarked safely, with 20 sustaining light injuries or burns.    

In recent months, there have been reported attacks on Iran’s shipping fleet that have been linked to its arch foe Israel. 

The Kharg, an Iranian navy support vessel and one of the force’s largest ships, sunk this morning near the port of Jask after burning for more than 20 hours overnight

Iran said the fire broke out ‘in one of the systems’ of the ship on Tuesday, without elaborating. It comes amid a series of attacks that Iran and Israel blame on one-another

In April, Iran blamed Israel for a blast which damaged military vessel MV Saviz in the Red Sea – saying the ‘attack’ was carried out using underwater mines. 

The New York Times reported at the time that the Saviz had been targeted in an Israeli ‘retaliatory’ attack after ‘Iran’s earlier strikes on Israeli ships’. 

The previous month, an Israeli cargo vessel was hit by a missile in the Arabian Sea while sailing from Tanzania to India, with Israeli security services blaming Tehran. 

And in February, the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray car carrier was also hit by explosions while sailing off the coast of UAE.

While Israel made no official accusation at the time, local media reported that Iran was top of a list of suspects. 

The blasts also form part of a years-long shadow war in Middle Eastern waters which has also seen ships linked to Saudi Arabia and the UAE damaged – including a series of blasts in 2019 that almost drove the US and Iran to war. 

Iran says 20 sailors were lightly wounded with burns during the incident, but nobody was seriously hurt

US intelligence agencies had directly blamed Iran for two tanker attacks that occurred that year, sparking a series of tit-for-tat skirmishes that ended with a US drone strike which killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, and saw Iran launch missiles at a US airbase in Iraq in retaliation. 

Israel and Iran – long-time regional foes – have most-recently been feuding over a 2015 deal signed by Obama that sought to stop Iran obtaining nuclear weapons in return for trade incentives.

Trump, spurred on by Israel, tore up the deal in 2018. Biden now wants to renegotiate terms with Tehran, which seems to have prompted the latest round of fighting. 

Negotiations on the deal are ongoing in Vienna despite the clashes, which have also included strikes in Syria and attacks on Iran’s nuclear program.  

The more than 200 metre (more than 650 feet) long Kharg caught fire on Tuesday off the port of Jask on the Gulf of Oman.           

Iran’s ISNA news agency said its mission had focused on ‘training, intelligence and combat’ alongside the destroyer Alborz. 

The Kharg was initially ordered from British shipmaker Swan Hunter in the 1970s by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – an ally of the West – before the 1979 Revolution which saw him ousted from power and driven into exile.

Following the revolution, the Kharg became a political hot potato and its transfer to Iran was held up several times – firstly because of the hostage crisis which saw Americans held prisoner in Tehran from 1979 until 1981, and then because of the detention of a British nation – Andrew Pyke – in Iran.

The ship was eventually handed over to Iran in 1984, after the hostage crisis had ended and Pyke had been released, on the grounds that is was a support vessels and could not be used in offensive operations.   

The sinking of the Kharg in just the latest naval disaster for Iran. 

In 2020 during an Iranian military training exercise, a missile mistakenly struck a naval vessel near the port of Jask, killing 19 sailors and wounding 15.  

Also in 2018, an Iranian navy destroyer sank in the Caspian Sea. 

In 2019, a series of explosions and fires on oil tankers linked both Iran and Saudi Arabia around the Arabian Peninsula brought the two sides close to war.

The blasts began in May when four tankers – two Saudi-flagged, one Norwegian-flagged and one Emirati-flagged – were damaged near the coast of UAE.

Then in June, the Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous were damaged in what was initially reported as a fire on the latter vessel. 

US intelligence agencies backed by the UK and Saudi Arabia later accused Iran of attaching limpet mines to the side of the tankers, blowing holes in the hull which sparked the blaze. 

That was followed by drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil processing facility at Abqaiq which it blamed on Iran. 

The Kharg was built in Britain in 1977 and entered the Iranian Navy in 1984 . It was designed to resupply other ships at sea, lift heavy cargo, and launch helicopters

In October, Iran then reported that one of its oil tankers had been hit by two missiles in the Red Sea, on the other side of the Arabian Peninsula, in what it said was a ‘terrorist attack.’

Then, the follow year, Iran was hit by a series of major fires that broke out on land – sparking rumours of sabotage operations.

The most serious blast took place in July that year at the Natanz nuclear facility causing significant damage, though officials said operations were not affected.

Another explosion hit a medical clinic north of Tehran last month, killing 19 people in what Iran said was a gas leak.

On June 26, an explosion occurred east of Tehran near the Parchin military and weapons development base that was also blamed on a gas leak.

Six other fires and blasts have also been reported, most of which have taken place around Tehran, but some of which have occurred further south.

A factory in Baqershahr, a power plant in Zergan, the Shahid Tondgooyan petrochemicals plant, and Bushehr shipyard have all been struck. 

Two Iranian fighter pilots killed as ejector seats ‘smash them into hangar roof’ 

Two Iranian fighter jet pilots were killed on Tuesday when their ejector seats activated before take-off, smashing them into the hangar roof.

State broadcaster IRIB reported the F-5 fighter jet had a ‘technical problem’ that killed both the pilots, identified as as Kianoush Basati and Hossein Nami.

The report said the incident unfolded at Dezful Vahdati Air Force Base, approximately 270 miles south of the capital Tehran, and near the Iraq border.

Kianoush Basati (right) and Hossein Nami (left) were killed after the ejector seats in their jet malfunctioned, Iranian state media said

According to BBC Persian, ejector seats were ‘wrongly activated’ for both the front and rear cockpit pilots. Both men ‘lost their lives due to a severe impact with the roof of the hangar’, the report added.

State TV channel IRNA said the incident happened before takeoff but did not elaborate.

Social media users identified Basati as a colonel and Nami as a lieutenant.

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