UW: We are familiar with the "terrorists take rig workers hostage" scenario. Is this ploy still used by terrorist groups, or are they focusing more on the rigs and vessels themselves, rather than the workers?
NA: Seizure of rigs and offshore structures is becoming a commonplace event. We saw this more in 2002 in Nigeria.
Also, in Colombia, terrorists are moving away from bombing pipelines toward attacking rigs and refineries. Pipeline attacks were reduced from about 200 to 45, while a number of rigs, supply depots, refineries, and loading terminals have been attacked. This coincides with terrorist statements that they would begin to focus on the larger infrastructure facilities.
The same is true in Indonesia. ExxonMobil has been targeted, particularly in the Aceh region in northern Indonesia. The same holds true for the Indonesian oil fields, but to a smaller degree thus far.
UW: Can you describe the ways offshore oil rigs are specifically vulnerable to the threat of terrorism?
NA: Offshore rigs (platforms, etc.) are the largest industrial complexes in the world that are void of security measures. This includes security systems, personnel, and any means of repelling an attack. This anamoly in the industrial community is due largely to the prior absence of a real need for security, save perhaps for the forementioned countries of Nigeria, Colombia, and Indonesia.
The vulnerability begins with the jumping-off points where crew and supply boats have their docks and heliports have loading terminals. These sites have no security measures, are manned by non-security trained personnel, and provide little or no means of equipment inspections for items to be sent offshore.
At the rig or platform, security and surveillance capabilities are non-existent.
Further, offshore structures contain large quantities of industrial materials suitable for making devastating bombs, so ordinary explosives are not required.
A greater threat may be the simple commandeering of a heavily loaded workboat as it nears the rig or platform, and then ramming the platform while under maximum throttle.
UW: Can you detail some past instances of terrorism in the offshore oilfield that Americans may not be aware of?
NA: Some have been touched upon in my earlier comments. Seizure of jackup rigs and platforms are common in the aforementioned countries.
Also, it is becoming more common in Angola, Gabon, Ivory Coast, and, to a lesser degree, in South Africa.
Remember that this is often terrorism-for-profit and not necessarily terrorism for political ends. As such, it is likely to continue long after Al-Qaeda fades into the history books. Also, it is more likely to spread worldwide, as many groups will see the financial benefit even though they may have no political motives.
Update: Added date information concerning article.