News / Economy

BP Pressured Over Algeria Plant Attack

Algerian soldier stands near damaged cars used by Islamist militants during siege near the Tiguentourine Gas Plant, In Amenas, Jan. 31, 2013.
Algerian soldier stands near damaged cars used by Islamist militants during siege near the Tiguentourine Gas Plant, In Amenas, Jan. 31, 2013.
Reuters
Some foreign workers at an Algerian desert gas plant feared for their safety well before Islamist militants killed dozens at the site, and relatives and survivors want joint operator BP to investigate its own security record.
 
Forty oil workers, all but one foreign, died at In Amenas in January after the militants took expatriates hostage during a four-day siege that ended when Algerian forces stormed the site.
 
BP and Norway's Statoil, partners in the joint venture with Algerian state energy firm Sonatrach, have said it was impossible to predict an attack of such unprecedented scale.
 
However, the widow of one British victim said her husband had expressed worry in an email sent about seven weeks before the surprise raid on Jan. 16 that a labor dispute at the plant had undermined security and could lead to serious violence.
 
Contractor Garry Barlow was evacuated when tensions rose during the strike at In Amenas. According to his widow Lorraine, he returned after his managers at the joint venture assured him it was now safe, but died within weeks on his 50th birthday during the siege in which four BP staff were also killed.
 
A lawyer representing mostly British survivors and families of the victims has also said his clients wanted answers from BP over possible security failings, and said some were considering suing the company for negligence and breach of duty of care.
 
None has yet sued. In an emailed response to Reuters questions, BP said: “We can't comment on speculative legal action. However, BP will vigorously defend any such actions.”
 
BP has already set aside $42 billion for clean-up costs, fines and compensation for a blast and oil spill at a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. A trial of BP over the disaster three years ago is due to resume in the United States on Monday.
 
Any compensation claims linked to In Amenas would be much smaller, but could further hurt BP's reputation if successful.
 
London-listed BP said it had been unaware of any specific threat to the In Amenas project, or to British or Western interests in the area before the attack.
 
While Statoil has already conducted and published its own inquiry, BP said it did not plan to follow suit.

“Because of the nature of the incident and the fact that the response was an Algerian military operation, there are many questions arising which BP is not in a position to answer,” BP spokesman Robert Wine said in the email.
 
British police were investigating the deaths of U.K. citizens on behalf of a coroner who will hold an inquest, he noted, adding that BP would cooperate with the coroner and review the outcome of official investigations for lessons to be learned.
 
Strikes at the plant
 
Widow Lorraine Barlow questioned BP's security procedures and decision-making before her husband Garry's death, calling on the group to follow the example of Statoil, which published the report on its high-level investigation on Sept. 12.
 
Barlow told Reuters that Garry, who as a contractor was not directly employed by BP, had become worried about his safety last year when tensions rose over the industrial dispute with local drivers, who had begun to bring their relatives on site.
 
His fears were laid out in the email to his sister on Nov. 30 after many expatriates had already been evacuated or “demobbed” in the industry jargon.
 
“Situation is getting dodgy here, local drivers have been on strike for six months, they are now on hunger strike, place is practically crippled and can't go on much longer,” he wrote in an email tinged with black humor that British lawmaker Rosie Cooper read out in parliament on June 12.
 
“Local Tuareg have said that if any of the hunger strikers die then they will kill 30 expats at the In Amenas gas plant. As most expats have been demobbed, there are only 10 of us left, they must be planning to kill us all three times over, ha ha.”
 
The Tuareg community are traditionally nomadic people who inhabit the Sahara desert mainly in Algeria, Mali and Niger.
 
According to Statoil's report, written by staff and external security experts including a former acting director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the long-running dispute over contracts worsened in November when the hunger strike began.
 
The drivers went back to work in return for a pay increase and contract extension the next month, but the report said joint venture managers had felt the deal was unlikely to last.
 
Barlow said her husband was evacuated in early December 2012 and had not expected to go back as the situation was so tense. Garry had begun to look for other work when his managers told him the strike was over and it was safe to return, she said.
 
“He took their word for it,” she told Reuters.
 
Garry was hired and paid through IOTA, a Swiss company that provides human resources services to the oil sector, but his widow said he worked for and was managed by the joint venture.
 
BP said it was not previously aware of the email and there was no evidence the joint venture or shareholders were.

“There is no evidence that BP is aware of, that the drivers' strike had any connection to the incident,” said Wine, the BP spokesman.
 
The attackers were not from inside the facility but from the ranks of hardline guerrillas who have been waging jihad across much of the Sahara, and Algeria says they arrived at In Amenas from over the nearby border with Libya.
 
However, locally hired workers who escaped the siege told Reuters at the time that the gunmen moved around the sprawling plant confidently, apparently familiar with its layout, raising questions about whether they had inside help.
 
Algerian authorities have since arrested a man who had been employed at In Amenas and provided the militants with insider information, Algerian security sources said.
 
Statoil's inquiry found security at the plant was inadequately managed, and a Norwegian union has said the firm's chief executive Helge Lund should consider resigning. Lund has said he did not plan to quit.
 
Barlow, who will be represented by U.K. law firm Slater and Gordon at the inquest, said she did not intend to sue BP for compensation. However, she wanted to know the truth about how Garry was killed and whether more could have been done to protect workers at In Amenas.
 
“We need to know who made the decision to send them back, how that decision was made, what criteria were used to make that decision,” she said. “I know they could never have stopped the terrorists from coming but was there anything that could have been in place that would have minimized what happened?”
 
Families demand answers
 
The Statoil inquiry concluded that while the joint venture partners could not have prevented the attack, the Norwegian company, at least, was aware of the growing risks.
 
It showed Statoil was concerned enough to order a risk consultancy report, delivered in July 2012, which suggested Algerian security forces were increasingly stretched and their ability to manage threats should be closely monitored.
 
“Regional political and security dynamics give rise to the credible threat of a one-off, high-impact terrorist incident in the oil-producing provinces,” it quoted that report as saying.
 
Michael Doherty, a quality control technician who survived the siege, said in a documentary by Britain's Channel 4 television that he had also been worried about security.
 
“I couldn't believe how inadequate that system was compared to other sites that I've worked in the world,” he said. “We were looked upon as a very vulnerable and easy target.” Reuters was not able to reach Doherty for comment.
 
Feeling safe with BP
 
Controversy has also arisen over who was responsible for the safety of contractors like Barlow, who were not BP or Statoil staff but were hired through recruitment or other firms.
 
In Amenas gas plant usually employs around 700 people, mostly Algerians. At the time of the siege, BP had about 20 people at the facility while Statoil had 17. There were also dozens of foreign contractors on the site. Six British nationals and a British resident were among those killed.
 
Trevor Sterling, a lawyer for Slater and Gordon, which is representing 37 people — both survivors and relatives of the dead, said British workers had felt reassured by BP's involvement in the project.

“Our clients would not have gone to work for Sonatrach. It was because it was BP. They felt safe because it was BP,” he said.
 
BP had not met contractors who survived or the families of contractors who died to try to build up a broader picture of what happened and avoid a repeat, he added.
 
Wine said BP had debriefed its staff but contractors were employed through the joint venture, which is a separate entity.
 
While BP said it would cooperate with the coroner, the inquest has yet to be held more than six months after the attack. At a preliminary hearing in July, coroner Penelope Schofield found there was insufficient information to set the scope of the inquest.
 
The complexity of the case, involving a major incident on foreign soil and firms based in Algeria and Norway as well as the U.K. meant it had taken time for British police to gather information, the coroner's officer said.
 
Another preliminary hearing is set for November and the inquest is likely to be held next year, he said.
 
Even if the coroner sets the widest possible remit for the inquiry, as Barlow hopes she will, the inquest will not point a finger, although Slater and Gordon says it may provide more information and potentially offer grounds for legal action.
 
“The coroner must answer four questions: who died and where, when and how they met their death,” said Geoff Charnock, officer at West Sussex coroner's service. “This is not a court of blame."

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.7768
JPY
USD
108.84
GBP
USD
0.6124
CAD
USD
1.0999
INR
USD
61.042

Rates may not be current.