Norwegian oil company Statoil has said it relied too heavily on Algerian military protection at its Ain Amenas gas facility, which was attacked by an armed Islamic terrorist group in January.
“There is reason to question the extent of their reliance on Algerian military protection,” Statoil said in a report on the incident.
An al-Qaeda-linked militant group stormed the Sahara desert facility, jointly run by BP, Statoil and the Algerian state company Sonatrach, on 16 January. In the ensuing stand-off with Algerian forces, 40 workers – including two Scots – were killed, along with 29 militants.
“Our assessment was that the Algerian forces had the capacity to withstand an attack,” Statoil chief executive Helge Lund said. “We as a company should have been closer to the security work locally in Algeria. That we have improved now.”
Torgeir Hagen, who headed Statoil’s investigation, said the assault was unprecedented.
Inner security at the site – including protective barriers, unarmed guards and access control – was the responsibility of the joint venture, while the outer security was in the hands of the Algerian military units, according to the report.
Algerian troops couldn’t “prevent the attackers” and security measures failed “to withstand or delay an attack of this scale, and relied on military protection working effectively,” Mr Hagen said yesterday.
“We must remember that the responsibility for the killing of 40 innocent people alone lies with the terrorists,” Statoil board chairman Svein Rennemo added.
Algeria has bristled at criticism of how it handled the crisis. The storming of the site by commandos was portrayed as a great victory, and the nation’s president praised the military for taking back the gas plant.
An investigation into the attack by the government in March found private security firms charged with the installation’s protection to be at fault and announced that the military would be responsible for protecting energy sites. Security has since been boosted at plants across the country.
Since the attack, neither Statoil or BP has had any employees at Algerian sites. Algeria has not done enough to remove their concerns about security, they said.
In Britain, the incident is subject to an English coroner’s inquest assisted by a police investigation.
A company statement read: “BP co-operated with Statoil’s investigation and will support all official investigations carried out by relevant authorities and review all outcomes to determine what can be learned for the future.
“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, including how the terrorists were able to breach the military zone to attack the plant.”