Nikolay Marchenko



The platform Castoro Sei, which lays pipes for the maritime section is traveling to Burgas, photo MarineTraffic.com

Exactly one week (Monday, August 18th) after caretaker Minister of Economy and Energy Vasil Shtonov announced the “final” freeze of the activities of the Russian-sponsored gas pipeline project “South Stream”, the work continues in Bulgaria with the second unloading of pipes of Russian monopoly “Gazprom”. According to insider information of Bivol, the pipes are manufactured in Germany.

The project company to build the maritime section of the pipeline – South Stream Transport BV – published in the Bulgarian version of its website pictures of the delivered pipes. Meanwhile, on August 14, Varna media informed that a week earlier, the first ship with pipes for “South Stream” has arrived at the Varna port and the vessel came from Germany.

A little known fact is that the ship-platform for laying the pipes is traveling to Burgas and is currently in the Aegean Sea. The Castoro Sei platform under Bahamian flag left Rotterdam on July 30 and is expected in Burgas on August 30. The involvement of this specific and very expensive ship is obviously a sign of serious intent.

“South Stream Transport” says they have 8,000 delivered pipes

The information that there is ongoing delivery of pipes for “South Stream” is confirmed, at least for its maritime section. “While obtaining the necessary building permits, our company carries out pre-planned preparation works for the construction of the maritime pipeline,” was the answer received by Bivol to its inquiry with Nina Mircheva, communication manager of the based in Amsterdam South Stream Transport BV (joint participation of the monopoly “Gazprom” and its partners – German Wintershall, Italian ENI and French EDF).

She explains that the production of pipes in Germany and Russia is underway since April 2014 and the first pipes are stored in the ports of Burgas and Varna. “South Stream Transport” has signed contracts for the delivery of more than 150,000 pipes – the quantity required for the construction of the first two lines of the gas pipeline across the Black Sea in the first quarter of 2014,” she says. Mircheva reports in more detail that in August this year, four thousand pipes have been delivered in Varna only, and at least this many are stored in the port of Burgas, including pipes from Russia. Thus, there are a total of over eight thousand pipes being delivered for several months now.

Contracts have also been signed with companies Saipem and Allseas for the construction of the maritime pipeline and other construction services. “Contracts with both Bulgarian ports for storage of the pipelines were signed at the beginning of this year. Until now, several thousand pipes have been delivered and they are all designated entirely and exclusively for the maritime pipeline. As a joint venture of one Russian and three European companies, which complies with European and national law, we see no obstacles to the delivery of the pipes in the ports,” reads the position of “South Stream Transport” Bulgaria.

The company is of the opinion that as a whole “South Stream” was not frozen by Brussels and Sofia. “I take this opportunity to emphasize that the “South Stream” project as a whole is not suspended or canceled. Regarding the Bulgarian section of the project, as far as we know from the media, the European Commission wants to make sure that the project on Bulgarian territory is in line with EU requirements. We, from “South Stream Transport”, have no reason to doubt that the partners in other joint ventures, created for the construction of the pipeline on land, can confirm the necessary compliance of their projects,” Nina Mircheva further responds.

Both companies with “Gazprom” participation have denied the delivery of pipes for the Bulgarian section of the project. Meanwhile, the map of the project for the maritime section, which is provided on the website of “South Stream Transport” Bulgaria, shows the so-called “maritime pipeline” entering several kilometers of Bulgarian territory – to Compressor Station “Galata”. As Bivol wrote recently, this is connected with the infamous amendment to the Energy Act (EA), tabled by lawmakers from the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Tasco Ermenkov and Yavor Kuyumdjiev in April 2014. Their idea was to “remove” not only Bulgarian territorial waters, but also part of Bulgarian territorial land from the EU boundaries, respectively, to place them outside the jurisdiction of the Third Energy Package of the EU. Since the amendment to the EA was adopted only on first reading, it is not in force and therefore it is unclear whether it is in line with Bulgarian and European legislation regarding the maritime section for which pipes are delivered, in reference to Bulgarian Black Sea shelf and the first kilometers of the land area.

Sanctions “on paper”: the European Commission and the government are not commenting on the delivery of pipes.

After the scandal with the “freezing” of the project by Vasil Shtonov, with whom the bosses of the Bulgarian Energy Holding (BEH) and of “South Stream Bulgaria” refused to comply, it became clear that the pipes keep arriving because the EC has turned a “blind eye” to this. On August 21, the independent Russian news agency Interfax reported that the EC spokesman, Chantal Hughes, has refused to comment on the matter of deliveries that were prohibited by EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger in his address to the countries along the route of the pipeline. It should also be noted that expanded sector sanctions of the EU against Moscow for the supply of all kinds of equipment and materials from the Russian oil and gas sector are in effect since August 7.

The EC spokeswoman, however, believes that “the government of Bulgaria is meeting its commitments to the EU to suspend work on the project”. On the question of the delivery of pipes in Varna, she replied that this would not be commented on officially. “But we will not declare our position on the delivery of additional pipes. From our view, work is stopped. This is what we asked for and the Bulgarian authorities have confirmed their decision in this direction,” Chantal Hughes stated, without being widely quoted by Russian and Bulgarian media. According to her words, the request from a letter sent to Sofia for the suspension of the project until the completion of the expert reports has been “respected in full”.

So far the caretaker government is not commenting on the pipe deliveries, news of which have already reached Brussels – not Prime Minister Prof. Georgi Bliznashki, nor Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva, nor the overseeing Minister Vasil Shtonov or his deputy.


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