UPDATE 1-Pipeline rupture halts gas flow from Bulgaria to Serbian border

(Adds Malinov quote, Ukraine offers transit capacities to Hungary)

SOFIA, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Bulgaria halted the transport of Russian natural gas to Serbia and Hungary early on Monday after a pipeline rupture in the northeast of the Balkan country, state gas network operator Bulgartransgaz said.

The accident, reported at 3 a.m. local time (0100 GMT) near the village of Vetrino, automatically stopped gas flows to Romania as well, but these were partially restored after 8 a.m. (0600 GMT), Bulgartransgaz said.

The pipeline rupture came at a time of skyrocketing energy prices in Europe as tight gas supplies have collided with a rebound in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic has eased, and amid increased appetite for carbon-emissions permits.

Bulgaria launched a 474-km gas pipeline in January this year to transport Russian gas from its southern border with Turkey to its western border with Serbia - providing a link to the Russia-backed TurkStream pipeline to Serbia and Hungary.

But Sofia also uses parts of its ageing TransBalkan pipeline, where the accident took place, for transport of Gazprom gas deliveries to Serbia and Hungary.

Bulgartransgaz chief executive Vladimir Malinov said there was material damage from the rupture and the company was set to repair it once judicial authorities complete an on-site investigation.

“We are ready to start replacing the affected pipes and repair the pipeline as soon as possible,” Malinov told reporters. He told Reuters later that repair teams would work all night and the company would be able to say early on Tuesday how long the job would take.

Ukraine’s gas pipeline operator GTS is ready to offer gas transport capacities to Hungary to “minimise the consequences of the accident for consumers” there and in Serbia, GTS chief Segiy Makogon said in a Facebook post.

With benchmark gas prices up by some 250% this year in Europe, governments across Europe are coming under pressure here to curb energy bills to help families and small businesses as economies slowly emerge from the pandemic. (Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova with additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, editing by Mark Heinrich)