How Secure Are LNG Tanks From Terrorists?
By Jessica Resnick-Ault and Mark Reynolds, Providence Journal Staff Writers - 3/29/2004
No one knows for sure, and with liquefied natural gas facilities proposed for Southern New England, there is outspoken concerns by lawmakers.
Hours after terrorists attacked
the World Trade Center on 9/11, federal
counterterrorism officials feared the next target could be liquefied
natural gas tankers in Boston. If ignited, the ships could wipe
out the city's downtown.
FBI officials Friday denied that stowaways who entered the country on LNG tankers were terrorists. "There were people who have come over on tankers and other ships, as stowaways," said Special Agent Gail Marcinkiewicz in the bureau's New England office. One such stowaway, Abdelghani Meskini, arrived in Boston from Algeria in 1995, Marcinkiewicz said. Meskini was later convicted in a 1999 plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport. Meskini has maintained his innocence, and Marcinkiewicz said he was not considered a terrorist when he entered the country. She could not detail what occurred between 1995 and 1999, during the time Meskini allegedly became a terrorist. Marcinkiewicz said Clarke was not briefed on this investigation after June 2001, and therefore had "incomplete information." She would not say whether other stowaways had been reported since then.
LNG importers said they have also taken additional precautions to reduce threats. Algerian tankers will not be coming to Providence, according to Carmen Fields, spokeswoman for terminal developer KeySpan Energy. Importers planning to bring the fuel to Somerset and Fall River have not named their source. "The crew members will be screened before they leave wherever we get our supply," said James A. Grasso, spokesman for Weaver's Cove Energy in Fall River.
But Clarke said there were other concerns. Beyond stowaways, he said officials worried about the impact of an attack upon LNG tankers. Since 9/11, measures have been put in place to better protect LNG ships, according to Coast Guard Capt. Mary E. Landry, who directs port safety for Providence. (Currently, LNG tankers do not enter Providence Harbor, thoughother fuels, such as liquefied propane, do.) Landry said every vessel entering the harbor must now give 96 hours' notice of their arrival. The ships and their crews are screened by the Coast Guard's Intelligence Coordination Center in Washington, D.C. Coast Guard officials may also board the ships offshore to screen them. By the end of this year, all international vessels will be required to provide the Coast Guard with security plans, Landry said. All LNG facilities -- right now the country has only four -- are required to have their own Coast Guard-approved security plans.
U.S. Customs and the Border Patrol are responsible for researching vessels and giving them clearance to enter the United States, according to spokesman James F. Michie. The agency uses a variety of technologies to "substantially increase the likelihood that contraband and criminal activity, including terrorists and the implements of terror, will be detected," Michie said. Despite the precautionary measures, Clarke's LNG concerns have generated national attention. Concerns about LNG "form a complex of threats," according to U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., whose district includes Fall River. To keep these scenarios from occurring, LNG facilities must be away from populated areas.
Clarke's LNG concerns -- including
his fears about the potential for a
terrorist attack on an LNG tanker in Boston Harbor on 9/11 --
inquiry from U.S. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., last week.
Markey said he wants the Bush administration to provide him with
any federal documents that reference al-Qaida and the Everett
facility. Last week, he asked Homeland Security Secretary Tom
Ridge and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta to explain why
they didn't tell him about the issues revealed in Clarke's book.
He still hadn't heard from them on Friday.