Iran’s FARS News Agency recently confirmed that a containership is being converted to a forward base ship for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) at the Shahed Darvishi shipyard near Bandar Abbas naval base.
With a length of approximately 240 metres and a displacement of about 40,000 tonnes, the 22-year-old Shahid Mahdavi – which has previously traded under a number of names, most recently the Iranian-flagged Sarvin – will be one of the largest operational warships afloat. Images on social media indicate that conversion is at an advanced stage. The ship now has a grey hull and anti-aircraft guns have been fitted.
Analysts assess that the prime role of the ship will be a force multiplier and range extender for the IRGCN’s massive fleet of guided missile-, torpedo-, rocket- and gun-armed small fast attack craft. It is also likely to operate unmanned aerial vehicles and helicopters.
The IRGCN, dedicated to asymmetrical warfare, has traditionally been charged primarily with control of the Strait of Hormuz. The new asset, which joins the smaller forward base ship Shahed Roudaki and, reportedly, two clandestine “merchant ships” in the IRGCN offshore inventory , potentially enables the service to extend operations into the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean, although it would surely be vulnerable in the event of serious hostilities with other nations’ naval forces.
There may also be an element of “keeping up with the Joneses” as Iran’s parallel maritime force, the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy, already operates a large forward base ship, namely the converted tanker Makran, which received considerable publicity when it deployed to European waters in 2021.
Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police. He is Baird Maritime's resident maritime security expert and columnist.