TEHRAN: An Iranian warship was hit by a friendly fire missile during naval exercises, killing 19 sailors, state media and the army said Monday, amid tensions with the US in Gulf waters.
The incident involving the Konarak vessel occurred on Sunday afternoon near Bandar-e Jask, off the southern coast of the Islamic republic, state television said on its website.
“The vessel was hit after moving a practice target to its destination and not creating enough distance between itself and the target,” said the channel.
The armed forces said in a statement that 19 crewmen were killed and 15 injured.
It said the Konarak had been involved in an “accident” during the exercises, without elaborating.
The vessel had been towed ashore for “technical investigations”, it added, calling on people to “avoid speculation” until further information is released.
Tasnim news agency said in an English-language tweet that the Konarak was hit by the missile fired by another Iranian warship.
The vessel had been hit by “‘friendly fire’ after Moudge-class frigate ‘Jamaran’ accidentally shot (it) with a missile during live firing exercise in Jask area of #PersianGulf waters”.
The 15 injured were hospitalised in Sistan and Balochistan, said Mohammad-Mehran Aminifard, head of the province’s medical university.
Two of the sailors were in intensive care, he told the semi-official news agency ISNA.
Trump ‘shoot down’ threat
The Konarak is a logistical support vessel made in the Netherlands and purchased by Iran before the 1979 Islamic revolution.
Weighing 447 tonnes and 47 metres (154 feet) long, the Hendijan-class vessel is equipped with four cruise missiles, according to state television.
It was not immediately clear how many crew members were on board the warship at the time of the accident.
Iran and its arch enemy the United States have traded barbs in the past year over a spate of incidents involving their forces in the sensitive Gulf waters.
Their latest high-seas confrontation came on April 15, when the United States claimed Iranian boats had “harassed” its navy ships in the waterway.
US President Donald Trump then tweeted that he had ordered the US Navy to “shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea”.
Tensions have escalated since 2018 when Trump withdrew the United States from a multinational accord that froze Iran’s nuclear programme and reimposed crippling sanctions on its economy.
Iran’s armed forces in January mistakenly shot down a Kiev-bound Boeing 737 passenger jet shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard.
The military admitted to the catastrophic error, saying it came as Iran’s air defences were on high alert after firing a barrage of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq.
Iran launched the missiles in retaliation for the United States’ killing of its top general Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike days before that.