Home: Issue 7 2012 › Lead Story › Safer seas
22/08/2012 | Channel:
Health & Safety
Richard Broughton on the issues and dangers of piracy facing operators in and around the Gulf of Guinea, and how to maximise protection levels and reduce risk
West African piracy: A global issue for the oil and gas industry
Since 2008, the growth of modern day piracy within the Gulf of Aiden has been well publicised and reportedly cost the economy over eight billion dollars in 2010 alone. As a result, a co-ordinated and collaborative effort by naval forces to combat its practice was instigated and, according to the latest evidence, this NATO led offensive is having a positive impact on the overall number of attacks. However, some in the industry have raised concerns regarding the continued rise in incidents of piracy occurring in West African waters and a perceived lack of a state driven response.
The costs and the implications
In May this year, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released its latest analysis on the issue of global piracy. According to the report, the first three months of 2012 saw the number of incidents involving pirate activity reach 102 worldwide – with 212 people taken hostage and four people losing their lives. Although these statistics provide an accurate overview of the situation across the African continent, perhaps more significant to those working within West Africa’s oil and gas arena was the report’s reference to the ‘dangerous rise in the number of attacks off Nigeria and other West African countries’.
This evolution and geographical shift is undoubtedly a troublesome trend for those operating in West Africa, especially as it demonstrates a continued escalation of an already significant problem. For example, between 1975 and 2010 there were over 60 hostile incidents reported by oil and gas facilities, with the majority, around 70 per cent, occurring since the beginning of 2004. Furthermore, more than 60 per cent took place in or around Nigerian waters, and at least 13 incidents resulted in damage being caused to the platform, with eight attacks resulting in loss of human life.
Looking to government
Historically, the dominance of Nigerian oil interests around the Gulf of Guinea meant the issue of piracy within this region was largely deemed a Nigerian problem. However, more recently, other adjoining states – aware that pirates are increasingly likely to target their own installations – are stepping up their available military presence and attempting to organise a more considered and collaborative approach to dealing with the problem.
Originally formed in 1975 and comprising 26 coastal and landlocked African states, the Maritime Organisation of West and Central Africa (MOWCA) moved to address the issue of piracy through a forum with the IMO held in 2008. The result was a revised mandate to provide support to member states in ‘the co-operative management of all maritime issues’ through its role in port security and shipping co-ordination. Despite this more focused effort, very few countries in the region have been able to take any real affirmative action to address the huge chasms in maritime security along Africa’s vast west coast.
According to David Mugridge of Defence IQ, a provider of analysis on global defence and military-related topics, “The Gulf of Guinea is staring at a precipice of regional maritime insecurity. The continuing economic, social and political impact is pronounced and will continue unless there is focused investment in both manpower and resources.” As a result of comments such as this and reports offering similar conclusions, and despite regional governments beginning to address the issue at state level, owners and operators of offshore facilities are increasingly asking the question ‘what can we do to stay ahead of this trend and ensure the safety of our crew and facilities?’ Richard Webb, managing director of offshore security integration specialists, MarineGuard, thinks working with a dedicated security provider, familiar with the region’s challenges and able to integrate a facility’s risk and security planning, is key, as he explains: “By far the most important decision in maximising protection levels is choosing a partner that understands your operating environment, the available technology and your objectives. It’s essential they have the experience to deliver an integrated solution which reflects your current situation, whilst providing the safeguards to ensure you will be protected no matter how technology or your operation evolves.”
By highlighting the key stages professional specialist security organisations use, you can begin to understand the importance of proper planning and early involvement. With that in mind, Richard Webb shared his recommendations regarding the five steps you and your security partner should follow to achieve maximum protection:
Step 1 – Security risk assessment
Based on the type of asset, the geographical location and the level of protection required, the security risk assessment forms the foundation to all future security planning and enables a threat profile to be developed. The threat profile quantifies the likelihood of an attack, establishes your level of vulnerability, highlights the potential impact an incident would have on your operation or business as a whole and permits security system recommendations to be made.
Step 2 – Design
Working with the client and security contractor, the design stage establishes the core security functions and identifies the tools required to manage intruder detection, as well as the technologies available to assist reaction and recovery following an incident.
Step 3 – Installation, implementation and integration
Following the completion of the design stage, a project manager (PM) will oversee installation, site acceptance testing and handover to the owner or final client. The PM will also oversee the overarching integration of the complete security system. This ensures the different technological elements are able to communicate with each other and minimises the requirement for security personnel to monitor the system when in operation.
Step 4 – Training and long-term security management plans
In addition to explaining the ins and outs of the new security system to all relevant personnel, training should involve incident simulations and live exercises to ensure the client and on-site personnel understand their role or responsibility should an attack occur. Following this, your security partner should develop a comprehensive security management plan. The purpose of which is to formalise all agreed actions and procedures relating to onsite security.
Step 5 – System maintenance, expansion and upgrade
The final step is on-going maintenance of the installed system. Regular remote checks should be completed to confirm all elements are working correctly and the system is integrating fully with the different components. In addition, a professional supplier will have built a ‘futureproof’ system, with the flexibility to incorporate new technology as it comes to market or requires an upgrade.
Understanding the available technology
The remote location of many offshore facilities understandably makes them prime potential targets for pirates and other terrorist factions. Add to this the inherent challenge of effectively securing a large platform with a relatively small number of personnel and it’s clear the use of the latest area-monitoring technology is essential. Historically, offshore security focused on nighttime patrols of the platform’s perimeter. However, operators now have the ability to identify a possible security threat at a significant distance using the latest radar and thermal imaging products – conversely making their isolated setting an advantage.
As is true for several other industries, technological development within oil and gas security has often been driven by developments in military technology, and ‘wide area sensing’ is one such example. Furthermore, with facilities facing heightened risk levels after the cover of darkness, developing technologies that provide effective advanced detection in low light have also been a specific focus.
The latest developments in long-distance radar and thermal imaging cameras have provided facility operators with a much increased detection reach, while improvements in infra-red illumination have overcome the intrinsic issue of capturing images in low light levels and poor weather conditions.
Highly sophisticated video technology is also now available, with the latest developments adept at classifying potential threats against a set of predefined parameters. In spite of all the aforementioned technological advances, the final decision of whether an approach is hostile or not remains solely in the hands of human personnel – making the need for all these complementary technologies to be fully integrated critical, as Webb remarks: “By seamlessly integrating the information from these different sources – including radar, thermal imaging and video – into a central monitoring and control centre, operators are provided with a concise situational overview, thus enabling an appropriate response to be actioned immediately.”
Looking to the future
New technological developments aimed at improving security are constantly coming to market. Whereas some of these new products are little more than gimmicks, targeted at those easily impressed by flashing lights or loud noises, some have the potential to have a genuine and positive impact on the issue of piracy. One tool that could revolutionise offshore security and become an integral and essential asset is near real-time satellite based monitoring of oil fields.
MarineGuard is hoping to be at the forefront of this new dimension to platform protection, as Richard Webb concludes: “Within the next five years, the use of satellite HSEbased tracking for those involved in shipping or offshore facilities is destined to grow exponentially. Satellite monitoring uses track analysis algorithms, in combination with space based satellites, to show unauthorised vessel movements around the vicinity of a platform.
“Soon you will be able to monitor every vessel in a 1000 mile radius, automatically identify those which have good reason to be in the area and feed any information regarding suspicious activity through to the relevant authorities in near real-time. It is a hugely exciting development, which we feel will cause a real shift in how all those involved in the industry tackle the issue of piracy.”
Developments such as satellite technology will, without doubt, assist operators in increasing protection levels and help maintain a safe environment for those working within these critical facilities. In spite of this, however, it is not beyond reason to suggest that the increased presence of international naval forces throughout recognised shipping channels will make stationary facilities, located in more remote areas, far more appealing. Add to this the level of investment and relative sensitive nature of offshore platforms, and facilities operators could easily find themselves becoming the prime target for pirates, terrorists or any other group with a grudge against industrialised nations and multinational businesses. The technology to protect crew and offshore platforms is available; now, the only remaining question is how many incidents will it take before it becomes industry standard?
Richard Broughton is a public relations professional and respected freelance journalist with ten years’ experience writing about technology and the oil and gas sector