Sharp eyes picked up on a headline in Maritime Safety News for 16th June: “The LNG Threat:Liquefied Natural Gas Tankers Remain Giant Terror Targets on the extremist American website The Cutting Edge,. We would have ignored it except that the report was based on a paper,.The Terrorist Threat to Liquefied Natural Gas: Fact or Fiction? from a political analyst with the US military’s Foreign Military Studies Office, Cindy Hurst, a Lieutenant Commander in the US Navy Reserve, and is, therefore, likely to be cited in other news reports and academic papers and may ‘inform policy’ as the saying goes.
The paper originates with the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security,IAGS, a grouping of politicians, rightwing activists and religious organisations and associated with the ‘Make American Free Coalition”‘ which tells us it is “spearheading a global effort to transition the transportation sector to next-generation fuels and vehicles that can utilize them, the United States can deny its adversaries the wherewithal they use to harm us.”
The assumption of the paper is that LNG carriers are manned by non-American crews and flagged under non-US registries and until they are, America won’t be safe: “…members of the public remain adamantly opposed to bringing LNG with its foreign ships and crews into their “backyards,” perhaps rightly so.”
Or, more likely, wrongly so. A sniffy person might point out that American men, women and children are more at risk from other American men, women and, sadly, children than from Al Quaida. Eight times more Americans are killed by American bullets every year than died in the 9/11 attack at ‘foreign’ hands. Every American president subject to actual or attempted assassination has been the victim of an American with the sole exception of William Kinley in 1901.
Says Hurst: “The rest of the world does not seem to share the same security and safety concerns as Americans regarding LNG. This could be a potential problem..” Of course, it may be that the rest of the world has a far better idea of the real potential for using an LNG carrier as a weapon and whther or not one is likely explode if attacked.”
One of MAC’s correspondents, in command of an LNG tanker, criticised the Cutting Edge version of the Hurst report: “Yet another article by partisan authors scaring the pants off the American public. I am master of one of these potential LNG bombers they seem so worried about and it distresses me beyond words to be slandered in front of Congress. My crime is to be non-American. The union delegate speaking to congress has alternate motives, he’s looking for jobs for his members, terrorism is the red herring being used to convince the American public I am a threat.
“As for all this rot about flags of convenience, where does the author get her information from? In case anyone really is interested many of the new LNG ships, including the one I am master of is registered in the Marshall Islands, which I believe is US territory and a US second register.
“Cut out this nonsense and scaremongering. Tell the truth for a change. Anyone who knows anything about LNG tankers knows it’s almost impossible to blow such a ship up.”
The mechanism posited by Hurst is a boiling-liquid-expanding-vapor-explosion or BLEVE and suggests, based on a report citing a DNV executive, that Moss-type tanks are particularly at risk. She does not suggest any means by which this could occur.
Indeed, one of Hurst’s sources, Scott Conway who has served eight years onboard LNG tankers and who is intimately familiar with the construction of the Moss spherical tanker, asks: ““Where is the BLEVE going to occur in this tank? Where are you going to direct the flames back at this tank to heat up the liquid? How are you going to build up the pressure so that it overcomes the safety release? When you can explain this all logically as per the ship’s construction, then we’ll talk seriously.”
Neither Hurst, nor The Cutting Edge provide a practical scenario for creating a BLEVE in a Moss tank, or any other LNG tank, logically or illogically.
Responding to the Cutting Edge version of the report, Captain Bryan Mitchell dismissed claims by an American union regarding the inadequacy of seafarer identification: “The union representatives know nothing of our (UK that is) vetting or monitoring procedures, scaring the US public with visions of floating bombs manned by any Tom, Dick or Harry that choses to board is just so ridiculous I can’t believe the politicians don’t see through it. No one can sail on board any ship I have ever worked on without an official seaman’s registration book issued by their own country and more commonly now the flag state of the ship registration as well. The flag state issues the identification document after verifying the national ID and certification. I (and every other certificated officer in the UK) am subject to a revalidation process every 5 years, the British government has my full history of the 40 years I have spent at sea. We come to the US and suddenly I am a security risk? I am master on one of the largest, latest generation LNG ships scheduled eventually to come to the US and I can tell you I don’t like the idea at all.
“The US is dependent on international, not American, shipping, without it the country would quickly stop, the only reason your union bosses insist on using the terror-threat card at every turn is for them to get their members on board my ship. Wake up, their is no terror threat from an LNG tanker bomber. ..The cargo is almost impossible to explode and the notion that a ship can be blown up on demand is beyond belief and as for a Naval officer suggesting such a thing raises doubt on the credability of US naval intelligence services. “
Captain Mitchell points out, which neither the Hurst paper nor the Cutting Edge does, “ LNG burns with a “lazy” flame, not an explosive one; in all probability any incident on a tanker would lead to fire nothing more, bad enough for those on board but this does not represent a major danger to surrounding areas. No large scale test has ever been conducted of the results of a leak of LNG, all results are an extrapolation of a test using very small quantities of LNG carried out in the early seventies”
Hurst and the Cutting Edge cclaim that much of America’s LNG supplies come from unstable states which are, or are likely to be, sources of terrorist activity. A 2005 Congress Report Service analysis of the previous year’s shipments give the following statistics: In 2004, LNG imports to the United States originated primarily in Trinidad (75%), Algeria (16%), and Malaysia (3%). Some shipments also came from Qatar, Nigeria, Oman, Australia and other countries.4 Brunei, Indonesia, Libya, and the United Arab Emirates. Of those, only Libya has a historical terrorisdm background but it has long since ‘joined the fold’.
The real argument isn’t about the safety of LNG ship’s, but that if manned by Americans and flagged in the US the imaginary threat will disappear.
Terrorists seek the downfall of their target state but don’t intend to do it themselves. They create the conditions under which the instruments of the target state do it for them., by themselves creating fear, economic destablisation and justifying infringements of cultural values, social norms and legal structure in the name of that fear, eventually losing the mandate of the citizenry to govern.
Everything that serves to generate fear and lead to unrealistic goals through uneconomic means serves to strengthen the terrorists’ arm. Indeed, it is far more effective now for terrorist organisations to fund papers and research into terrorist threats than go through the risk and expense of a large scale attack. In this case, xenophobia against a workforce on which America depends for its existence, works well for the terrorists.
The terrorists have co-opted those who think, or claim themselves to be working in America’s interests to generate fear for them. Al Quaida, it seems, is winning the exchange.