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Romania, Iran in tiff over oil rig in Persian Gulf

Romania said Iranian troops opened fire from a warship and seized a Romanian oil rig Tuesday off the coast of Iran, holding its workers after a commercial dispute.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Romania said Iranian troops opened fire from a warship and seized a Romanian oil rig Tuesday off the coast of Iran, holding its workers in an incident stemming from a commercial dispute.

Sergiu Medar, a national security adviser to Romanian President Traian Basescu, said the seizure resulted from a commercial dispute Iran is treating “in an extreme way.” He gave no details.

Romania’s Foreign Ministry called on Iranian authorities to immediately free Romanian crew members being held by the troops who took over the rig. The rig operator said seven Indian crew members had been released but 20 Romanians were still detained.

“We are dealing with a commercial dispute that is being treated in an extreme way by the Iranian authorities,” Medar told Realitatea TV. He added that Iranian authorities had not confirmed the incident. Iranian officials and state media offered no immediate statements.

The company that operates the rig was in Iranian courts earlier this year over a dispute involving another one of its oil rigs, the Romanian financial weekly Saptamana Financiara has reported.

The Romanian Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Iran’s ambassador to provide information and that Romania’s charge d’affaires in Iran, Mircea Has, was instructed to lodge an official protest and request a meeting with Iranian diplomats there. It said it planned to send a Romanian embassy team to the area where the rig was attacked.

The Iranians fired into the air and then fired at the Orizont rig, said Radu Petrescu, a spokesman for rig operator GSP. A half-hour later, troops from the ship boarded and occupied the rig and the company lost contact with the 26 crew members, company officials said.

GSP President Gabriel Comanescu said, “They fired on the rig. They destroyed one of the cranes. Four armed soldiers climbed aboard the rig.”

Workers not injured
Has said the Romanian crew members were not injured and were being detained on the rig’s helicopter pad.

A Romanian lawmaker who leads the left-wing opposition accused Iran of taking a hostile action against Romania. He called on President Basescu to lead an emergency meeting of the country’s supreme defense council.

“The oil rig Orizont is Romanian territory,” said Mircea Geoana, who heads the Social Democratic Party. Geoana served as foreign minister from 2000-2004.

GSP, also known as the Oil Services Group, is a private Romanian company established in 2004 that operates six offshore rigs that it bought from Romania’s largest oil company, Petrom.

Two of its rigs are operating near the Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf as part of a deal signed between Petrom, GSP and Dubai-based Oriental Oil Co.

The Orizont rig was built in 1987 and weighs 13,000 tons. It has been moored near Kish island in the Persian Gulf since October 2005, Romanian political consul in Tehran Yujin Chira told The Associated Press.

Kish, in the southern end of the Persian Gulf, houses the offices of about 100 Iranian and foreign oil companies.