Old photo of burning ship falsely portrayed as 'Red Sea incident in 2024'

A picture published in news reports about an Iranian navy ship ablaze in the Gulf of Oman in June 2021 resurfaced in social media posts that falsely portrayed it as a Greek-owned vessel struck by a missile off the coast of Yemen. The claim is part of a wave of misinformation flooding social media since November 2023 when Yemen's Huthi rebels began targeting ships travelling through the Red Sea, triggering reprisals by US and British forces.

The picture was posted on Facebook on January 17, 2024.

"A Greek oil tanker was attacked by a missile off Yemen," reads the post's Thai-language caption, adding the information is from the Reuters news agency. The post added the ship was travelling from Vietnam when it was attacked.

Reuters reported a day ealier that a Greek-owned vessel called Zografia was struck by a missile off Yemen's northwest coast. It was sailing from Vietnam to Israel, the report said.

An AFP report about the incident, quoting a source within the Greek maritime affairs ministry, said the Zografia "sustained limited damage... but remains in a navigable condition, and is continuing its journey".

Screenshot of the false Facebook post, taken February 6, 2024

Yemen's Huthis rebels -- part of the anti-Israel "axis of resistance" of Iranian-backed groups -- began targeting Red Sea shipping in November 2023.

The rebels say they were hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza, which has been ravaged by the Israel-Hamas war.

The attacks have prompted some shipping companies to detour around southern Africa to avoid the vital Red Sea route that normally carries about 12 percent of global maritime trade.

US and UK forces have responded with strikes against the Huthis, who have since declared American and British interests to be legitimate targets as well.

Similar Thai-language Facebook posts here, here and here have also portrayed the picture as showing the attack on the Zografia ship, while Arabic posts claimed it shows a burning American vessel.

The posts are a recent example of misinformation swirling around the attacks, the most of viral of which had been previously debunked by AFP here, here and here.

'Iran navy ship'

A reverse image search on Google found the picture featured in a report from Reuters on June 2, 2021 (archived link).

"Iran's biggest navy ship sinks after fire in Gulf of Oman - media," its headline reads.

The caption credits the picture to the West Asia News Agency and says: "Smoke rises from Iran navy's largest ship in Jask port in the Gulf, Iran, June 2, 2021".

Below is a screenshot comparison between the picture in the false posts (left) and the one in the Reuters news report (right):

Screenshot comparison between the false post (left) and the photo on Reuters' website (right)

The same picture was also published by international news organisations including CNN, the Washington Post and the BBC (archived links here, here and here).

The British-built fleet replenishment vessel Kharg, one of Iran's largest naval ships sank on June 2, 2021 after catching fire off a strategic port near the head of the Gulf, according to the navy.

Footage aired by state television showed a massive column of smoke rising from what it said was the burning vessel, AFP reported at the time.

The fire broke out in "one of the systems" of the ship, a navy statement said without elaborating. Firefighting efforts continued "for 20 hours" before the ship went down.

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