Contractor cites Iranian gunfire in rig dispute

Bob Tippee
Editor

Global worry about his nuclear ambitions wasn't the only issue around which Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad performed diplomatic pirouettes last month.

There also were allegations of gunfire over a disputed offshore drilling contract.

Grup Servicii Petroliere SA (GSP), a Romanian drilling contractor, said on Aug. 22 that an Iranian military vessel opened fire on one of its two cantilever jack ups recently working in the Persian Gulf.

GSP said it had terminated contracts for the rigs, the Fortuna and Orizont, on Apr. 1 after learning that the client, Oriental Oil Co. of Dubai, had subcontracted the units to Petro-Iran Development Co., a subsidiary of National Iranian Oil Co. It claimed failure by the client to open a letter of credit and to pay invoices worth $8 million but said it allowed the rigs to continue working for 3 months "as a gesture of goodwill."

Under a court order, GSP said, it was able to move the Fortuna to Sharjah. But it alleged in an Aug. 16 press release that PetroIran was holding the Orizont "hostage" by denying clearance for boats needed to tow it off location on Salman oil field.

In a statement 6 days later, GSP said personnel on an Iranian military vessel fired 20 warning shots at the Orizont, boarded the rig, and disconnected communication equipment. The rig had 26 crew members aboard. There were no reports of injuries.

Representatives of Oriental Oil alleged that GSP tried to hijack the Orizont, a charge GSP Pres. Gabriel Comanescu called "ridiculous." He said the Orizont, like the Fortuna, had an order from an Iranian court allowing removal. He said his company remained willing to negotiate a new contract with NIOC.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported news accounts in Iran of a telephone discussion of the incident between Ahmadinejad and Romanian President Traian Basescu in which the leaders were said to have agreed that misunderstandings of this type are inevitable. Ahmadinejad, according to the reports, assured Basescu that it was all just a commercial misunderstanding.

So everyone should feel safe. After all, those 20 warning shots didn't involve nuclear weapons.

(Online Sept. 1, 2006; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)


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