The Iranian Navy on Monday said it had deployed two warships to the Gulf of Aden, off Yemen’s coast, aimed at providing security to Iran’s commercial shipping. The Flotilla is composed of the destroyer Sahand, accompanied by the Kharg – a logistical vessel with a helicopter pad. Iranian state TV described the Sahand as Iran’s most advanced destroyer, although it has never been seen in action and its capabilities cannot be independently verified.
The deputy army chief for coordination affairs, Admiral Habibollah Sayari, said the warships would “provide security for Islamic Republic vessels in international waters.” He added that the warships would “escort” commercial vessels in the Sea of Oman and the Gulf of Aden.
The Gulf of Aden is situated at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula between Somalia and Yemen. It is the southern gateway to Bab el Mandeb, the Red Sea, and Suez Canal that connects Europe and North America with Asia and East Africa.
About 1,500 ships, 10 percent of global shipping traffic, pass through it every month, including 4 percent of the world’s daily crude oil supply. The global economy depends on the free and undisturbed flow of goods and energy resources.
Somali pirates have attacked hundreds of vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea during the last decade, though most attacks do not result in a successful hijacking. Pirate operations targeting commercial vessels prompted nations to launch a massive naval anti-piracy effort in 2008. The peak years of the Somali piracy crisis were 2007 to 2012, but this campaign has slashed the number of incidents off Somalia.
The last attack on an Iranian ship occurred in October 2016. Pirates attacked two Iranian commercial ships in the Gulf of Aden with the intent of hijacking them but were defeated by Iran’s 44th Flotilla.
The Sahand Destroyer
Iran’s domestically-built Sahand destroyer was launched on December 1, 2018. Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of international sanctions and embargoes that have barred it from importing many weapons.
The 1,300-ton vessel is 96 meters long, can cruise at 25 knots, and has radar-evading stealth capabilities. The Sahand is equipped with a standard 76 mm gun, two triple launchers for lightweight torpedoes, 20 mm GAM-BO1 guns, four anti-ship missiles – either Nour (C-802) or the longer-range Ghadir version, Iran’s Merhad derivative of the SM-1 surface-to-air missiles, as well as sophisticated radar and radar-evading capabilities. The Sahand has a helicopter landing deck, and the vessel is capable of traveling for five months without refueling.
Iran has launched different domestically-built ships as part of a broad project known as Mowj (wave) to revamp its navy equipment which dates from before the 1979 Islamic revolution. However, the Sahand is a new version of the Alvand-class light frigates that were built in the UK for Iran in the 1960s.
The two ships previously produced under the Mowj project were Jamaran and Damavand. Iran added the first domestically made destroyer to its fleet in 2010 in the Persian Gulf.
The Iranian flotilla announcement came amid heightened tensions between the US and its allies and Iran over the collapse of Tehran’s nuclear deal and the re-imposition of US sanctions and the US strategy of “maximum pressure.”
The United States and Saudi Arabia have blamed Iran for multiple attacks in the Arab Gulf: ships traversing the Strait of Hormuz have been attacked, drones downed, and oil tankers seized (Iran still holds a British-flagged tanker).
Iran’s military forces said they would protect their shipping vessels in the Gulf after President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran would consider blocking international shipping routes if sanctions forced it to reduce its oil exports to zero.
The deployment of Iranian warships to the Gulf of Aden should be considered as a part of the regional tension between Iran and the US and its allies and not as a routine activity against Somali pirates.
[Sources: The New Arab, IRNA]