Iran's Biggest Naval Vessel Enters Baltic Sea
The much-scrutinized journey of the Iranian logistics platform IRINS Makran has taken a new turn - into the Baltic.
Makran set sail for the Cape of Good Hope earlier this year, carrying seven suspected fast attack craft as deck cargo. Her route took her into the Atlantic - a first for an Iranian naval vessel - and raised widespread speculation that she might be intending to deliver the boats on her deck to the government of Venezuela. The prospect of an Iranian weapons delivery to a hostile government in the Western hemisphere was not welcomed in Washington, D.C., and American diplomats firmly warned their counterparts in Venezuela, Cuba and other regional governments not to host the Makran.
The unwanted delivery did not occur, as Makran continued north, raising new speculation that she might pass through the Strait of Gibraltar and deliver her cargo to Iranian-aligned Syria. However, she continued northbound through the English Channel instead, and on July 22 she passed into the Baltic Sea. She was escorted by Denmark's navy as she passed through Danish waters, and it is expected that she will head to St. Petersburg. The Russian government has announced the Makran's participation in a ceremonial naval exercise to mark the 325th anniversary of the Russian Navy.
Photos posted online by amateur ship-spotters and by the Danish Armed Forces suggest that the seven fast attack craft are still on board Makran's deck. The Iranian frigate Sahand is still attending her as an escort.
Makran (ex name Beta) is a Japanese-built Aframax tanker previously owned and operated by a Dubai-based company. Under new ownership, this sturdy commercial hull with widely-available parts has been transformed into a "sea base" for helicopter and landing craft operations. Makran's stated mission set includes deploying special forces, supporting fast attack boats, providing logistics support, treating wounded personnel, and operating radar and missile systems.
At 750 feet long, the former tanker is Iran's largest military ship. Earlier this year, Iranian Navy Commander Rear Adm. Hossein Khanzadi told the Tehran Times that Iran plans to create similar vessel conversions in future years.