Oil & gas industry’s top 5 kidnapping hotspots

Kidnapping hotspots12 August 2013, News Wires – January’s attack, and subsequent hostage crisis, at the BP plc-Statoil ASA-run In Amenas gas facility in Algeria by Islamist terrorists brought home just how dangerous some parts of the world can be for the expat oil and gas worker. An inevitable consequence for the oil and gas industry as it moves into “frontier” areas in its search for reservoirs rich in hydrocarbon resources is the increased security risk of operating in some of the world’s most dangerous countries and regions.

But while the In Amenas incident, which caused the deaths of 39 foreign hostages and an Algerian security guard, might have brought to the fore the threat to the oil and gas sector from Islamism in North Africa, other parts of the African continent, and indeed, the world, have far more prevalent incidences of hostage taking and kidnappings.

Of course the kidnapping of energy workers can happen anywhere oil and gas work is carried out, as the case of British oil worker Malcolm Primrose’s kidnapping in June showed. Primrose had been working for an Indonesian oil firm in the Aceh province of Indonesia, which is generally regarded as safe for foreign workers. Fortunately for Primrose, he was released from captivity unharmed soon after his ordeal.

Indeed, the vast majority of cases of hostage taking and kidnapping in the oil and gas industry do not result in harm coming to the staff taken.

Rigzone has sifted through recent news reports of kidnappings as well as studies by security experts to come up with the five greatest hotspots for the kidnapping of oil and gas workers:

East Africa
By far, the most likely place for an oil and gas worker to be kidnapped is at sea. During the first six months of this year, there were 138 piracy incidents around the world, according to the International Maritime Bureau, IMB, Piracy Reporting Centre. Many of these incidents involve workers and sailors on platform supply vessels, oil tankers and occasionally oil platforms themselves.

Somali pirates have plagued the east coast of Africa for year by hijacking vessels and kidnapping foreigners. While cargo vessels and private sailors appear to be the main targets for these pirates, the oil and gas sector is seeing increasing attention as countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique develop their gas resources for the global liquefied natural gas LNG market.

In early 2011, the Tanzanian government beefed up its maritime security in response to the threat from Somali pirates, specifically to allow the smooth continuation of oil and gas exploration activities in the country. This was after 11 cases of piracy in the country’s waters in a 13-month period between March 2010 and April 2011, including an attack on an exploration vessel belonging to Ophir Energy.

This response to the piracy threat seems to have worked. In October 2011, seven Somali pirates were detained by Tanzanian forces after a failed attack on an oil and gas vessel.

Earlier this year, the IMB reported a marked decrease in piracy in the region for 2012 when compared to 2011. Just 75 ships reported attacks in Somalia and the Gulf of Aden last year, compared to 237 in 2011, while the number of Somali hijackings halved from 28 to 14.

During the first six months of 2013, there were as few as eight piracy incidents recorded in the Somalia/Gulf of Aden region, which the IMB attributed to actions by international navies as well as preventative measures taken by merchant vessels.

North Africa
The In Amenas attack certainly put Algeria on the global hostage-taking map in January 2013. Thirty-nine foreign hostages from nine different countries were killed in the attack, while BP and Statoil lost nine staff between them.

Algeria and several other countries in the Maghreb region of Africa have been involved in a very bloody struggle against Islamist insurgents for more than a decade. Incidents have included the kidnapping of European tourists as well as the killing of police, military personnel and civilians through bombings and attacks with small arms.

That In Amenas specifically targeted foreign oil and gas workers marks a worrying change in strategy by the region’s Islamist militants. The oil and gas industry responded by examining its ability to protect workers at such facilities, with Statoil launching its own security investigation into the In Amenas attack headed by former Norwegian intelligence chief Lieutenant General Torgeir Hagen. In early July, Statoil reported that more than 120 people have now been interviewed by the investigating team, which is due to deliver its final report on the attack in mid-September.

Next door to Algeria is Libya, which has Africa’s largest proven reserves of sweet oil. Since the Libyan Revolution in 2011, the country has been struggling to get its oil and gas production back above pre-revolution rate of 1.6 million barrels of oil equivalent per day. But escalating violence in the country has been holding it back.

The spring of this year saw a number of clashes erupt at various oil fields and gas facilities. More recently, in June, an armed group tasked with protecting the 350,000-barrel per day Sharara oilfield attacked the headquarters of the Petroleum Facilities Guard in Tripoli after reportedly becoming disgruntled about a rival group being allowed to supervise a drill in the area.

This kind of unrest is unlikely to tempt Royal Dutch Shell plc back into the country after it decided to abandon two of its exploration blocks there in May 2012. BP has also not returned its expat staff to Libya, maintaining a skeleton staff of around 90 in the country.

As far as kidnappings are concerned, no reported incidents involving oil and gas workers in Libya have occurred this year, although 80 Tunisian oil workers were abducted by an armed group in April 2012 before being released days later. Meanwhile, several journalists and media staff have been kidnapped in Libya this year. The UK warned in April that a high threat of terrorism and kidnapping remained in the country.

Colombia has long been associated with violence and kidnappings, with the practice connected to revolutionary groups who usally prefer civilians, soldiers, government officials and the occasional foreign tourist as kidnap targets.

However, a “Country Risk & Threat Advisory Report” released in 2012 from strategic risk and security management firm KCS Group highlighted that oil workers are increasingly targeted in Columbia. “Kidnappings now represent a prime source of income for the guerillas, following Bogota’s crack down on the narcotics trade,” KCS noted.

Although “top targets” for revolutionary groups such as FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional) include people involved in agribusiness/cattle, merchants and traders and children (taken to pressure their parents), KCS noted that in 2001 there was a “marked increase in abductions of oil workers” who operate in areas where guerilla groups are active.

In March 2011, 23 Colombian oil workers – who were employed by Talisman Energy Inc. – were kidnapped in the eastern state of Vichada. Twenty-two of these workers were rescued a day later by Colombian troops. In June of that year, four Chinese oil workers were kidnapped by FARC and held for 17 months before being released.

Last year saw further incidences of oil workers being kidnapped in Colombia, including the kidnap by ELN of two women working alongside oil contractors in the northeast of the country.

Earlier this year, three oil contractors for Gran Tierra Energy Inc. were kidnapped by FARC in southern Colombia. They were released a day later.

The good news for oil and gas workers is that FARC is currently in peace talks that could see the Marxist group finally end its insurgency against the Colombian government after 50 years.

Colombia’s neighbor Venezuela has an extremely high rate of kidnappings, according to KCS. But although reports suggest there are as many as 70 people kidnapped per day in the country (with ranchers and high-profile businessmen being the most common targets), Rigzone could not find any reports of oil executives or oilfield workers being taken.

Ten years after its invasion by the U.S. and its allies – and more than a year-and-a-half after the last U.S. troops left the country – Iraq remains a highly volatile and unsafe place, largely as a result of terrorism. Not a month goes by in which there are no bombings somewhere in the country, with Kurdistan being the only region largely immune from incident. Iraq’s capital city, Baghdad, is often subject to car bombings, shootings and other violent incidents.

The country’s oil and gas industry is not immune from this violence and there have been several kidnappings of oil workers during the past few years. Even Iraq Deputy Oil Minister Abdel Jabar al-Wagaa was kidnapped in 2007.

During 2012, there were several incidents of oil workers being kidnapped in the country. These included four oil workers who worked for Athens-based Consolidated Contractors Company, who were kidnapped near Basra’s Rumaila oil field in May 2012; they were released after their captors were reportedly paid a $500,000 ransom. In December, a Kurdish oil worker was kidnapped south of Kirkuk while in the same month police had to rescue three oil company employees after they were kidnapped in Anbar province by an Al Qaeda-affiliated organization.

Kidnappings of oil workers have continued into this year; in June, two Iraqi Drilling Company workers were kidnapped in Kirkuk.

Nigeria and the Gulf of Guinea

Nigeria has long been known in the oil and gas industry as a hotspot for kidnapping. But while piracy in East Africa appears to be on the wane, offshore attacks appear to be undergoing a sharp rise off western Africa.

There have been several incidents of kidnapping offshore Nigeria so far in 2013, particularly off the coast of the Nigerian state of Bayelsa.

The most recent attack offshore Bayelsa was of two Russian and two Ukrainian oil workers in April, who were rescued by Nigerian police a month later. In February, three Ukrainians, two Indians and one Russian were kidnapped from an oil services ship off the coast Bayelsa.

These followed a number of pirate attacks offshore Bayelsa in late 2012, including the kidnap of an Italian crew of an offshore supply vessel.

In all, there were 31 incidents of piracy and armed robbery, including four hijackings, in the Gulf of Guinea during the first six months of 2013, according to the IMB. The IMB also noted the surge in kidnappings at sea and a wider range of ship types being targeted.

Armed pirates in the Gulf of Guinea took 56 sailors hostage and were responsible for all 30 crew kidnappings so far in 2013, with one person reported killed and at least another five injured. Attacks off Nigeria accounted for 22 of the region’s 31 incidents.

“This is a new cause for concern in a region already known for attacks against vessels in the oil industry and theft of gas oil from tankers,” a press release from the IMB stated mid-July.

On land there have also been several incidents this year, including the kidnapping for ransom of former Nigerian Oil Minister Shettima Ali Monguno in May by the Boko Haram Islamist group in May. Monguno was released days later.

Previously in April, nine workers attached to oil services companies were kidnapped by militants onshore Bayelsa.

More recently, in late July, a British oil worker was reported to have been freed after having been kidnapped at gunpoint from his vehicle shortly after arriving at Lagos international airport.

– Jon Mainwaring, Rigzone

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