Iran Seizes Control of a Romanian Oil Rig in the Persian Gulf

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran attacked and seized control of a Romanian oil rig yesterday in the Persian Gulf, one week after the European company removed another of its rigs from Iranian waters because of nonpayment of fees.

An Iranian naval vessel fired on the rig, named Orizont, owned by Grup Servicii Petroliere in Iran’s offshore Salman field and took control of its radio room at about 7 a.m. local time, Grup’s representative in the United Arab Emirates, Lulu Tabanesku, said in a phone interview from Dubai yesterday.

“The Iranians fired at the rig’s crane with machine guns,” Mr. Tabanesku said. “They are in control now, and we can’t contact the rig.” The Romanian company has 26 workers on the platform, he said.

The Islamic Republic accused Grup on August 15 of “hijacking” a rig from the same Iranian waters where Orizont operates close to the Straits of Hormuz, through which 20% of the world’s daily crude supply moves on tankers.

Grup said it moved the rig to U.A.E. waters because its client, Oriental Oil Kish, had not met agreed payment terms.

The Romanian company is seeking to reclaim unpaid fees through the International Court of Arbitration in Paris, Bader Mohammed al-Gurg, a partner at Dubai-based Horizons Advocates & Legal Consultants, which is representing the Romanian rig company in the dispute, said in a telephone interview from Dubai yesterday.

President Ahmadinejad of Iran suspended Oriental Oil’s activities in 2005 on charges of “financial corruption” and ties to Halliburton Co., state news agencies reported last August. Four employees were suspected of taking bribes from an unidentified oil company, Iran’s Etemad newspaper has reported.

The U.A.E.-registered drilling company had signed a preliminary contract with Halliburton Co. after winning an estimated $310-million contract to develop phases 9 and 10 of Iran’s offshore South Pars gas reservoir.

Storming the Romanian rig “sends a message that Iran can project its power and could interfere in oil production,” an Iran analyst for Control Risk Group, Heinrich Matthee, said in a phone interview yesterday from London.

Iran’s Ministry of Petroleum and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards could not be reached for comment when called. Yesterday was a national holiday in Iran.

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