DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran has called for foreign help to recover a $40 million gas platform from the Gulf seabed, its Mehr news agency reported, in a rare request by an industry isolated by sanctions.
The South Pars project to develop Iran's part of the world's largest gas field has been hampered by a withdrawal of international energy companies, under pressure from U.S. and European governments, and difficulties in acquiring technology due to sanctions on trade.
The platform's huge metal support jacket plunged 80 meters below the surface after a crane broke during installation.
The structure, one of four planned for South Pars, weighs well over 1,000 tonnes, and the companies involved - state-run service company Sadra and a National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) subsidiary - have asked for foreign companies to help rescue it, Mehr said on Wednesday.
"Without the help of foreign companies ... it is forecast that it won't be possible to retrieve the jacket for several months," an unidentified NIOC official told Mehr.
An official with Pars Oil and Gas Company, Sepehr Sepehri, earlier told Mehr that crisis groups had been set up on the site and in Tehran and that steps to recover the giant structure could begin when the weather and sea conditions improved.
But the NIOC official told Mehr that calls for help had been sent out to several international companies that might have the specialized equipment needed, without having received any response by Wednesday afternoon.
Tight banking restrictions, which Western governments have imposed to pressure Tehran to stop its disputed nuclear program, have made it difficult for companies to get paid for supplying goods and services to Iran.
The sanctions-battered energy industry has pushed on without them. Most of the parts are now manufactured inside Iran, Iranian industry officials say, but the need to develop in-house equipment has slowed projects.
According to Pars Oil and Gas, the Iranian portion of the offshore gas field, which it shares with Qatar, is estimated to contain some 14 trillion cubic meters of gas.
For its part of the field, Qatar has become one of the world's richest countries thanks to the rapid development together with U.S. and European energy giants of complex liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facilities.
Meanwhile, Iran's international isolation has prevented it from completing any LNG export facilities and limited its potentially huge exports to modest exports by pipeline mainly to Turkey.
(Reporting by Daniel Fineren, Marcus George and Yeganeh Torbati; editing by Jane Baird)