Security should be raised to counter the threat of terrorist attack in the Middle East

Tanker-vesselSecurity should be raised on oil tankers and other merchant fleet tonnage to counter the threat of terrorist attack in the Middle East, according to an advisory issued by Malta-based Maritime Asset Security & Training (MAST).

The company put out its warning after Al-Qaeda insinuated it could execute 'strategic attacks on choke-points of oil shipments' in its first issue of Resurgence, an English-language digital propaganda magazine posted online.

Whilst ISIS activity has dominated the news recently, the resurgence of Al-Qaeda and affiliate organisations is occurring alongside some of the worlds' most strategically vulnerable and crowded waterways, noted MAST.

COO Gerry Northwood OBE said: "The largely unforeseen consequences of the Arab Spring and the on-going civil wars in Syria and Iraq have allowed terrorist groups to get on the front foot. They have potential to do real harm to maritime activity in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and particularly in the key strategic choke points - namely the Straits of Gibraltar, the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal or the Bab El Mendeb Strait."

He added: "While Al-Qaeda specifically threatened oil tankers, large cargo ships and cruise liners could also be at risk. If the terrorists have the audacity to attack a warship - in September Al-Qaeda tried to hijack a Pakistan Navy Frigate - then they will surely think little of attempting an attack on a cruise liner."

In the event of an attack, Northwood continued, all crew members are at risk, particularly those on board vessels with hazardous cargos. "It is vital to have thorough security procedures in place and to maintain heightened levels of alertness at all times.

He added: "In high risk areas crew members should not be working in exposed positions or in areas where they cannot reach the citadel quickly. Even if the terrorists are not intending to board, a bomb could be detonated alongside the vessel, which could injure personnel close by on the upper deck or in adjacent internal compartments.

"Harbour authorities also need to think about how they control movements in the areas under their jurisdiction. A successful attack on a ship will require a lot of planning by the terrorist organisation, including reconnaissance on land and at sea. Harbour authorities should be vigilant and overt measures should be taken to restrict the movement of unauthorised vessels in the area."