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

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

World Currencies

EUR
USD
0.9118
JPY
USD
124.31
GBP
USD
0.6420
CAD
USD
1.3048
INR
USD
64.136

Rates may not be current.