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Bermuda owners sell ship into Italian controversy

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Golar Tundra: acquired last year by Milan-based Snam Group (File photograph)

A massive ship sold by its Bermudian owners to the Italian Government is at the centre of a heated debate in the small Tuscan seaside town of Piombino, The Guardian newspaper has reported.

The Golar Tundra is a floating storage and regasification unit that was sold last June by LNG Golar Limited to the state-owned company Snam for $350 million.

Natural gas is Italy’s primary energy source, and Snam is Europe’s largest natural gas infrastructure owner.

Italian authorities say the ship was purchased to address the energy shortfall caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as Italy has cut its dependency on Russian imports.

The Golar Tundra is designed to take liquefied gas transported by carriers, return it to a gaseous state and then feed it into Italy’s gas network. It was scheduled to begin operating this month.

The ship has a storage capacity of 170,000 cubic metres and is able to regasify about five billion cubic metres of gas annually.

However, the Italian Government’s plan to park the ship in Piombino’s port for at least three years has townspeople and environmental groups up in arms over the impact on the marine ecosystem, The Guardian said.

Piombino mayor Francesco Ferrari told the newspaper: “We have nothing against regasification terminals as long they’re safe.

“But we don’t like that this project was done without any evaluation of its environmental impact. We want to know if it’s safe.”

Snam commissioned a study from the University of Genoa, which concluded that the plant is safe, but no independent research has been conducted, and the project was exempted from the standard environmental impact assessment mandated by European and Italian law.

“Of course Snam says everything is fine. It’s like the butcher telling you their beef is good,” Maria Cristina Biagini, a retired clerk, told the newspaper.

There are concerns the installation could harm the area’s delicate marine ecosystem. Off the coast of Piombino is a cetacean sanctuary, a joint project involving Italy, France and Monaco.

In nearby waters, there is a large meadow of Posidonia seagrass, which removes carbon from the atmosphere and is also a key place for fish to breed — 60 per cent of Italy’s farmed fish comes from Piombino.

Critics note that the Golar Tundra uses “open circuit technology”: the LNG is stored at -160C (-320F), then is transformed into gas through heat exchangers that use the warmer sea water, sterilised with sodium hypochlorite, a chemical used in household bleach.

At the end of the cycle, The Guardian said, the water is released back into the sea, now 4-5C cooler and mixed with bleach.

After petitioning a federal court for a suspension and losing, the mayor of Piombino is now suing Snam in a court case that starts in July.

“We have the right to know if this work is feasible,” Mr Ferrari told the newspaper.

“Otherwise there is the risk of erecting a dangerous structure in the name of the national interest.”

Piombino mayor Francesco Ferrari

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Published May 21, 2023 at 7:00 pm (Updated May 21, 2023 at 7:24 pm)

Bermuda owners sell ship into Italian controversy

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