Govt to secure skies over oil basins from terror attacks

Govt to secure skies over oil basins from terror attacks

New Delhi: Caught napping by terrorists who took the sea route to Mumbai, the government is believed to be piecing together a plan that may see airspace over strategic installations being declared a no-fly zone to prevent 9/11 type attacks.

After terrorists came on speed boats to launch the deadliest attack on Mumbai nearly two weeks ago, the Navy and the Coast Guard may patrol the mouth of Gulf of Cambay more frequently to protect oil and gas wells and other such installations in the western offshore, besides ships carrying crude oil and LNG into the country.

The need is being felt for securing the airspace as well.

Oil Minister Murli Deora has met Home Minister P Chidambaram and Defence Minister A K Antony to “flag possible threats to oil and gas installations," official sources said.

Ninteen public and private sector oil refineries and installations such crude import hubs at Kandla in Gujarat and liquefied natural gas receiving facilities at Dahej and Hazira, in the same state, may be covered by the no-fly zone.

The Indian Air Force would be responsible for reinforcing the ‘no-fly-zones´, they said pointing a suicide mission like the 9/11 strike in US or even a remote-control operated unmanned plane could create havoc at oil installations.

Navy and Coast Guard may be pressed for increasing patrol in western offshore, home to India’s largest oil and gas producing fields of Mumbai High and Bassein, to guard against terrorists strikes on facilities like oil wells - most of which are unmanned.

While the Navy, Coast Guard and the security apparatus of the oil companies would guard the entire perimeter of the installations, sources said a “quick-response" team may be constituted to respond to any emergency.

Terrorists managed to land large quantity of arms and explosives in Mumbai using small boats that went undetected by the Navy and Coast Guard, raising an alarm that the same modus operandi could be used to target oil facilities in western offshore.

Western offshore is home to the nation’s biggest producing oil and gas fields with some 180 oil installations. Besides Mumbai High oil field and Bassein gas field, it is also home to Panna/Mukta and Tapti oil and gas field and its waters are used to ferry 70% of the crude oil India imports through ships and the entire LNG shipments into the country.

Sources said the Coast Guard and the Navy will have to increase surveillance and patrolling to prevent terrorists from blowing up the oil installations or the ships that carry crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) into the country.

At present, an Offshore Defence Advisory Group (ODAG), comprising of representatives of the Navy, Coast Guard, intelligence agencies and state-run firms like Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC), coordinates security of the assets in the offshore.

ONGC bears the about Rs100 crore spend on monitoring offshore oil and gas assets. There is a proposal to include private sector firms like Reliance Industries and Cairn India in ODAG for better coordination and they would be asked to bear a part of the security expenditure.

Besides, the companies have offered to bear a part of the security cost, sources said.

There is also a proposal to bifurcate the eastern and the western coast operations of the ODAG to ensure better security management. East coast, after the gas discoveries by Reliance and ONGC, has become a hub of activity and its security needs would have to be dealt with separately.