Security should be raised on oil tankers and other merchant fleet tonnage to counter the threat of terrorist attack in the Middle East, according to an advisory issued by Malta-based Maritime Asset Security & Training (MAST).
The company put out its warning after Al-Qaeda insinuated it could execute ”strategic attacks on choke-points of oil shipments” in its first issue of Resurgence, an English-language digital propaganda magazine posted online.
Whilst ISIS activity has dominated the news recently, the resurgence of Al-Qaeda and affiliate organisations is occurring alongside some of the world’s most strategically vulnerable and crowded waterways, noted MAST.
COO Gerry Northwood OBE, said: “The largely unforeseen consequences of the Arab Spring and the on-going civil wars in Syria and Iraq have allowed terrorist groups to get on the front foot. They have potential to do real harm to maritime activity in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and particularly in the key strategic choke points – namely the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal or the Bab El Mendeb Strait. While Al-Qaeda specifically threatened oil tankers, large cargo ships and cruise liners could also be at risk. If the terrorists have the audacity to attack a warship – in September Al-Qaeda tried to hijack a Pakistan Navy Frigate – then they will surely think little of attempting an attack on a cruise liner.”
In the event of an attack, Northwood continued, all crew members are at risk, particularly those on board vessels with hazardous cargoes.
“Harbour authorities also need to think about how they control movements in the areas under their jurisdiction. A successful attack on a ship will require a lot of planning by the terrorist organisation, including reconnaissance on land and at sea. Harbour authorities should be vigilant and overt measures should be taken to restrict the movement of unauthorised vessels in the area,” said Northwood.
Maritime Union of Australia has also warned that Al Qaeda has urged jihadists to attack oil tankers in two maritime hotspots that supply Australia with up to 70 per cent of its petrol, raising a concern over the nation’s near-complete reliance on imported fuel.
In their magazine article, Al-Qaeda identifies the “energy umbilical cord” sustaining western economies and describes fuel pipelines and shipping lanes as the “Achilles heel of western economies dependent on oil from the Muslim world.”
The magazine includes a map of shipping “choke points” it says are ripe for sabotage and a diagram of the fuel routes between the Persian Gulf, Singapore and Australia.
In September, Al Qaeda-aligned militants attempted to hijack a Pakistani frigate and use it to target US Navy vessels in the Indian Ocean.
“This terrorist threat raises fundamental questions of national security and sovereign risk for some of our biggest industries, let alone our motorists’ right to expect a constant supply of fuel at a reasonable price,” MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said.
The Australian federal government has called for submissions to its energy green paper which will investigate energy security.
Press Release; Image: Terntank