Iran Gives a Sigh of Relief as its Navy Gets Home Safely from a Nose-thumbing Atlantic Voyage
The IRINS Makran is the tanker turned supply-base ship that made the epic journey possible. Image: Morteza Fakhri Nezhad/CC BY 4.0
This weekend, part of Iran’s 75th fleet returned from a remarkable if politically curious three-ocean cruise. Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, welcomed the naval contingent’s “honourable return” from its “dangerous mission of voyaging in the Atlantic Ocean,” which he pointed out was a first in the history of the Iranian navy.
The 45,000 km escapade took 133 days on a route that saw the northern Indian Ocean, the Cape of Good Hope off southern Africa and the Atlantic before reaching the Baltic and St Petersburg, Russia. Thanks to the IRINS Makran, a massive ex-tanker turned support ship, the frigate Sahand was able to make the journey without any intermediate port stops.
The Sahand, the Mowj-class frigate that sailed recently to the Baltic and back, entered service for the Iranian navy in 2018, 30 years after its namesake was sunk by the U.S. during the Iran–Iraq War. Image: Mehr News Agency/CC BY 4.0
What was the purpose of the trip? According to the Tehran Times, it was simply to show that they could. It was a way to project the navy’s “powerful and proud presence” despite world sanctions and cause “strategic ambiguity” for Western naval powers. Or for, as Iranian Commander Abdolrahim Mousavi more colourfully described them, “the global arrogant navy, led by American terrorists.” Essentially, since the US and other Nato powers feel free to cruise threateningly off Iranian shores, Tehran felt it was time to show that they can play the same game. However, the obvious relief expressed at the ships’ safe return suggests that this was always seen as something of a provocative gamble, especially in the wake of the mysterious conflagration that caused the sinking in June of the IRIS Kharg, previously Iran’s biggest naval vessel.