No one was hurt, but shots were fired when the Iranian military seized a Romanian-owned oil rig in the Persian Gulf on Thursday, the Financial Times (UK) reported.  --  "It is unclear who ordered the operation to seize the rig," Alex Barker reported.  --  "Hamid-Reza Asefi, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, declined to comment on yesterday's incident." ...


In depth


By Alex Barker

Financial Times (UK)
August 22, 2006

LONDON -- Iranian armed forces attacked and forcibly seized a Romanian-owned oil rig operating in the Gulf on Tuesday, after a contractual dispute with its owners.

Grup Servicii Petroliere (GSP), an oil services group, said its Orizont rig had come under fire from a gunboat on Tuesday morning, after the crew refused to allow officials from a subsidiary of the Iranian state oil company on board.

The incident, which led to a minor diplomatic dispute between the two countries, marks a violent turn in a contractual wrangle between the Romanian group and a subcontractor.

The gunfire is understood to have damaged a crane on board as well as strafing the legs of the rig and accommodation areas for staff.

None of the 26-strong crew, including 19 Romanian and seven Indian nationals, was injured. The rig was on Tuesday under guard by an Iranian naval vessel, although the Iranian soldiers had left.

"It is totally crazy," Gabriel Comanescu, president of GSP, a private company that owns six rigs, told the Financial Times. "The Iranians took my men hostage. This must be the first- ever rig to be occupied by force in peacetime."

Mr. Comanescu said he was in touch with staff on board until armed men in camouflage -- who scaled the legs of the rig -- cut off communications. He was able to speak to his staff again in the late afternoon.

It is unclear who ordered the operation to seize the rig.

Hamid-Reza Asefi, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, declined to comment on yesterday's incident. But Iran's Revolutionary Guards, a key element of Iran's armed forces, have substantial involvement in the country's energy sector.

GSP has been in a contractual dispute with Oriental Oil Kish, a private Dubai-based drilling contractor that had leased its rigs to drill wells for Petroiran Development Company, a unit of Iran's state-owned oil company.

The board of Oriental includes senior Iranian political and military figures, who are believed still to include Cyrus Nasseri, a veteran diplomat who played a leading role in negotiations with Europe over Iran's nuclear program. Oriental has been the target of a corruption investigation in Iran.

GSP says it terminated its contract with Oriental after the group fell behind with payments and after doubts about the legal basis of its contract came to light.

Last week the Romanian company towed the Fortuna, its second rig in Iranian waters, to the United Arab Emirates.

GSP says it had permission to do so but Iranian oil industry officials later claimed GSP had "hijacked" the rig and they demanded its return.

In spite of high demand for offshore drilling rigs in Iran to exploit its oil and gas resources, few international operators choose to lease their rigs there. The Orizont, which was moored near the island of Kish, was one of only four foreign-owned rigs operating in Iran.

It emerged last year that Oriental had had business dealings with a subsidiary of Halliburton, the U.S. oil services group.

--Additional reporting by Gareth Smyth in Tehran.