Shipping in general and oil tankers in particular should increase levels of security to counter the threat of an increasingly likely terrorist attack, leading maritime security company MAST has warned.
The company issued the warning after Al-Qaeda insinuated it could execute strategic attacks on chokepoints of oil shipments in its first issue of “Resurgence,” an English-language digital propaganda magazine posted to the terrorist group’s online forum Shamikh1.info.
Whilst ISIS activity has been more recently featured in the western media, the resurgence of Al-Qaeda and affiliate organisations is occurring alongside some of the worlds’ most strategically vulnerable and crowded waterways.
Gerry Northwood OBE, COO of MAST, 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.”
He added: “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 –earlier 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.”
A successful attack could have a powerful impact on the shipping industry. Traditionally this is an area where terrorists have struggled to have a real impact, so it would be seen by Al-Qaeda as a big step forward and potentially a means to promote their cause.
Gerry Northwood said: “In the event of an attack, all crew members are at risk, particularly those on board vessels with hazardous cargos. It is vital to have well worked up security procedures in place and to maintain heightened levels of alertness at all times.
“Crew training and awareness, citadel drills and understanding of how quickly events can unfold are essential. There is no replacement for a good lookout and knowledge of pattern of behaviour, especially when approaching choke points, harbours or any constrained area. These are the most vulnerable places where terrorists have a good chance of accurately targeting a vessel.
“The use of armed guards or unarmed security advisors provides extra support to the Master of the vessel, ensuring high standards of security awareness on board are maintained and that risk based mission planning has been conducted and applied to every aspect of the voyage.”
He added: “In high risk areas such as choke points, and high density local traffic, crew members should not be working in exposed positions or in areas where they cannot reach the citadel quickly. Even if the terrorists are not intending to board, a bomb could be detonated alongside the vessel, which could injure personnel close by on the upper deck or in adjacent internal compartments.
“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.”