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SOURCE: THE DAILY STAR

The Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant project faces a fresh setback as the Russian ship carrying equipment for it is now sailing back instead of offloading the tools at West Bengal’s Haldia Port. “The Russian embassy in Dhaka has informed the authorities that the ship is returning to Russia after being unable to offload equipment at Haldia Port,” a foreign ministry official told The Daily Star yesterday.

Russian flag carrier URSA MAJOR was supposed to reach Mongla Port on December 24. However, the US embassy in Dhaka informed Bangladesh on December 20 that the vessel was not URSA MAJOR, but Sparta 3, a ship on which the US slapped sanctions over Russian invasion of Ukraine.

After confirming the matter, the Bangladesh authorities refused to let the ship anchor at Mongla Port. The authorities cooperated fully with the shipping agent concerned to make sure that the goods are offloaded in West Bengal and then transported to the power plant in Pabna.

Officials could not say why Sparta 3 could not offload equipment at Haldia Port after waiting there for two weeks till January 16.

On December 29, Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry told BBC in New Delhi that he didn’t have any information about the Russian ship being denied berth by Bangladesh, but it was okay if the ship arrived in India.

“There are a lot of debates on which is sanction and which is not in today’s technical world. But for the sake of our energy security, we will bring oil from wherever we get it. This is our policy. The same policy is applicable for other products too,” he said.

Contacted, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project Director Md Shawkat Akbar refused to make any comment on the matter.

Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen didn’t respond to calls from The Daily Star.

The Russian embassy in Dhaka also declined to comment.

An official of the Indian high commission in Dhaka last night said they didn’t have any information about the matter.

Sparta 3 left Haldia Port just after US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu concluded his visit to Delhi and Dhaka on January 16.

A diplomatic source in Dhaka said Delhi has been buying oil from Russia at cheaper price defying US sanctions, and Washington may allow it considering India’s huge needs. But allowing a Russian ship facing US sanctions to unload equipment for a Bangladeshi project is something different.

“India as a member of QUAD [Quadrilateral Security Dialogue] cannot simply ignore the US interest. So, it is not unlikely that Washington put pressure on Delhi regarding the matter,” the source said.

IMPACT ON THE PROJECT

Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, the country’s first nuclear power plant, was already facing challenges. Russia’s state-owned corporation Rosatom is the main contractor of the project, for which Russia is providing $11.38 billion as loan.

The project was going to miss the December 2023 commissioning deadline as German company Siemens AG refused to supply the gas-insulated switchgear for the project’s substation due to German and US-led western sanctions on Russia.

Project officials said the authorities have decided to procure equipment from a Chinese company — an issue which somewhat delayed the project.

After the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia war in late February last year, key Russian banks were expelled from SWIFT, the high-security system that enables financial transactions all around the world.

Moscow had proposed that Dhaka arrange loan repayment in ruble instead of US dollar. The Economic Relation Division of Bangladesh, however, said it would increase the loan servicing cost.

A project official yesterday said the equipment weighing about 50 tonnes, which was being carried by the Russian ship, would be delivered in alternative ways in a few months.

Another project official said every component of the project is crucial for starting the operation of the power plant. One of those remaining incomplete means the whole project would suffer.

“The extent of the impact of the equipment delivery delay cannot be predicted at this stage. But the delay will definitely affect the project,” he said.