Arrival of Cuba offshore oil rig delayed again

HAVANA, (Reuters) – The arrival of a Chinese-built  drilling rig set to explore for oil in Cuban waters has been  delayed again and is not expected to reach the island until the  second half of December, sources close to the project said.

The delay is the latest of many as communist-run Cuba  awaits the start of a project it hopes will give a shot in the  arm to its struggling economic system.

The massive Scarabeo 9, which set sail from Singapore in  late August, had been expected in Cuba by early November, but  was slowed by problems not unusual for a newly built rig going  to its first drilling operations, people close to the project  said this week.

The late December arrival means the first well, to be sunk  in 5,600 feet (1,700 metres) of water off Cuba’s northern  coast, may not be started until January, the sources said.

They warned that further delays were possible as the rig  makes its journey halfway around the world after it was built  in Yantai, China, and completed in Singapore. It was said to be  currently off the coast of West Africa, although reports about  its location varied.

Cuba had hoped to begin exploring for oil in its part of  the Gulf of Mexico several years ago, but the project has been  put off by construction delays and other issues.

The high-tech rig belongs to Saipem, the offshore unit for  Italy’s Eni SpA, and has been contracted by Spain’s Repsol YPF  for the Cuba project, which is the island’s first major  exploration offshore.

It will be used to drill at least three wells, two by  Repsol in a consortium with Norway’s Statoil and a unit of  India’s ONGC, and another by Malaysia’s Petronas in partnership  with Russia’s Gazprom Neft.

After that, plans for the project, which has been cloaked  in secrecy, are not clear, but may depend on the success of the  first three wells, a diplomatic source said.

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