Sept 13 (Reuters) - Statoil missed warning signs and failed to prepare for an incident like January’s deadly attack at an Algerian gas plant, an internal company probe said, painting a picture of chronic security problems at the site.
Some 40 workers were killed when Islamist militants raided the In Amenas facility deep in the Sahara desert, near the Libyan border, taking foreign workers hostage in a four-day siege that ended when Algerian forces stormed the plant.
BP and Algerian state firm Sonatrach are Statoil’s partners in the venture.
Below are highlights from the 78-page report:
External and internal security measures failed to protect people at the site.
The Algerian military were unable to detect and prevent the attackers from reaching the site.
Neither Statoil nor the joint venture could have prevented the attack, but there is reason to question the extent of their reliance on Algerian military protection.
Statoil’s contribution to the overall emergency response was effective and professional.
STATOIL‘S APPROACH TO SECURITY:
Security is generally not well understood within Statoil’s leadership ranks, and as a result has not been prioritised, resourced or managed properly.
The U.S. embassy in Algeria warned of a missile threat against aircraft flying to oil and gas plants, causing unease among personnel at In Amenas. Some firms opted not to use the regular charter flight between Gatwick and Hassi Messaoud.
The In Amenas joint venture continued to use the charter. The decision was based partly on the view of the British embassy which concluded: “the UK does not believe that this new threat from AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) to target aircraft poses either an imminent or credible threat”.
A risk consultancy report commissioned by Statoil concluded: the discovery in February of a weapons cache near the town of In Amenas, the suicide bombing in March in the city of Tamanrasset and a suicide bombing in June in Quargla indicated that security conditions in the far south were expected to deteriorate. It noted the potential for a one-off high-impact attack.
Although unforeseen and unprecedented, an attack on In Amenas should not have been entirely inconceivable.
The joint venture had incomplete information about the capabilities of the military providing the outer security layer. There was only a limited exchange of information. Furthermore, there has not been any high-level strategic security dialogue with Algerian authorities involving the companies.
Despite the turmoil in the region, the In Amenas joint venture operated on an unchanged threat level from February 2012 until the attack.
The extended strike reduced internal security resilience and eroded loyalty and morale among some employees.
The investigation team learned that there were direct threats from the strikers toward expatriate employees at In Amenas joint venture during this period.
Information from interviewees indicates that the terrorists ... knew which sites to drive to, which offices to target, and they searched for a few people by name.
Some eyewitnesses perceived that a number of the employees appeared forthcoming towards the terrorists during the first day of the attack.
There were two parallel security organisations operating at the site, not always with a high degree of mutual respect, trust and collaboration.