THE MAGAZINE

Platforms, Pipelines, and Pirates

By Micheal Crocker

Pundits have referred to the heightened state of security awareness and response that companies in America are operating under post 9-11 as the “new normal.” With respect to the domestic energy sector, it is perhaps more accurate to say that we are simply now having to face the more extreme security threats that energy sector operations in foreign countries have faced for decades.

Ahead is a look at the challenges the American energy sector faces in overseas operations and in domestic energy production.

Overseas Operations
Criminal activity and political unrest are among the challenges that must be addressed by U.S.-based security professionals when managing key assets deployed abroad. Even the seemingly simple task of ensuring safe and secure transportation of the drilling units can be a daunting task thanks to modern-day pirates.

Oilfield-related targets include vessels towing oilrigs (the reduced speed of five knots makes them a tempting target, and the ship master and chief engineer can be ransomed back to the company that owns the tug) and Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs), like the one that pirates attempted to board in the Singapore Straits on December 4, 2006.

“Pirate attacks are on the decline worldwide, but they are still an important threat to be considered when planning operations in areas in which they are active,” says Ross Johnson, CPP, corporate security manager of EPCOR Utilities in Edmonton, Canada, and a member of the ASIS International Oil, Gas and Chemical Security Council.

The most active region for piracy is around Indonesian waters. Attacks are down, but the level of activity is still significant, says Johnson, who has been involved in several anti-piracy operations in the Strait of Malacca.

That area in particular has seen such improvement that it has been dropped from Lloyd’s of London’s list of dangerous waters. There are a number of reasons for the reduction, but Johnson cites as the most likely causes “better cooperation between Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and Thailand; cooperation at the tactical level between Malaysia and Indonesia; a peace deal in Aceh [between the government and a separatist rebel group known as Gam] and reconstruction there after the tsunami; support from nations like Australia, Japan, the United States, and India; and the increased use of private security companies to protect some high-value targets transiting the Strait.”

Johnson offers a few security options for firms with rigs transiting high-risk waterways. These include nighttime deck patrols, spotlights to watch areas close to the rig (particularly the radar shadow at the rear), flowing water through fire hoses tied to outer rails, and coordination between the tow vessel and the rig to share information on possible approaches.

In addition, companies can hire escort vessels to protect the rig and tow vessel by positioning themselves between the rig or tow vessel and any approaching vessels. The aim “is not to put the pirates out of business,” says Johnson, but rather “to encourage the pirates to reconsider targeting the rigs and tow vessels.”

Nigeria is another trouble spot for piracy. Companies that are considering operations in Nigerian waters should not underestimate the impact that the threat of piracy will have on their operations and must be prepared to make a considerable investment in their security resources. Johnson points out that offshore (and for that matter, onshore) attacks in this region often involve guns, knives, or both.

In the first nine months of 2006, there were six actual and three attempted attacks in that region, and 17 crewmembers were kidnapped and held hostage. Attacks in Nigeria may be against vessels transiting the area, but more often they are against rigs or platforms operating near the coast.

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