Technical advances helping to improve security for platforms and vessels


Thermal-imaging surveillance cameras like this SeaFLIR unit from FLIR Systems are to be installed on LNG tankers calling at U.S. ports. (FLIR Systems)

Vessels and offshore energy facilities are potential targets for terrorists, but new security technology is being adapted for use on oil platforms, deepwater ports and LNG vessels.
Imaginative uses for existing technologies such as digital closed-circuit television, high-definition radar, forward-looking infra-red (FLIR) and automatic identification systems (AIS) are creating new methods to protect these resources.

As security on land has been tightened since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, offshore targets, such as the 4,000 offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. coast, are likely to be more vulnerable.

“On land, we have been very successful in stopping the terrorists,” said Kevin Cresswell, vice president of security and international operations for Sayres and Associates of Long Beach, Calif. “The maritime environment is the Achilles heel of any nation.”

As America’s ports and land-based oil and gas infrastructure have been hardened over the last five years, terrorists may be “looking for the softest target out there — the lone oil platform,” said Joseph Tenaglia, CEO of Tactical Defense Concepts LLC, a maritime security training firm in Spring Lake, N.J. “The environmental, physiological and economic damage just make it an easy target.”

“The most probable threat is still an explosive, small-boat attack,” said Tenaglia. There are numerous ways to protect offshore resources from attack. Physical barriers can be used, such as circling an offshore oil rig with a floating boom to keep small boats potentially carrying explosives from approaching the rig, according to Cresswell. A physical barrier to keep a small boat from driving right underneath the rig would also be helpful. Something as basic as a gangway ladder that can be pulled up, to make it harder for attackers to board the rig, is another suggestion from Tenaglia. Patrol boats can also be used to check on offshore resources.

But with the hundreds of rigs and other facilities in the gulf, patrolling all these resources would not be cost-effective. Increasingly, high technology is being used to protect offshore resources. Closed circuit television (CCTV) is a useful method to warn the owners of rigs of an attack from the surface of the water. Underwater cameras with high visibility can protect against undersea attacks.

Video cameras were first used in the offshore industry to monitor operation on the drill floor and to mitigate the possibility of oil spills, according to Leonard Pool, president of Sidus Solutions Inc. of San Diego, Calif. The use of video cameras for security came later.

“It has taken the oil companies some time to see the benefits of broadening the scope of video cameras,” said Pool. “They can put less people in harm’s way, and use a camera instead.” Sidus has equipment on unmanned platforms, such as pumping and processing stations.

There haven’t been any major security incidents on the Gulf Coast or West and East coasts, he said. “You look at West Africa and they have major problems, so the oil and gas majors that are currently operating in West Africa, all these companies are now seeing they need to have more situational awareness around their vessels and platforms worldwide,” Pool said.

Oil companies initially used video cameras to monitor operations on the drill floor, but they now recognize their security value and are mounting them on oil rigs to look for external threats from the surface or even for subsurface attacks. (Courtesy Sidus Solutions Inc.)

In recent years, militants in Nigeria have attacked offshore rigs and taken workers hostage. In 2007 there have been 18 attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta, with 70 workers taken hostage.

Sidus Solutions provides closed circuit, digital video systems with positioning controls for cameras and high-intensity lights to protect offshore oil rigs (the company also works with the gas, nuclear and petrochemical industries). The company provides rigs with color and black-and-white cameras, as well as low-light and infrared cameras. Undersea cameras include high-intensity lighting with a depth rating of almost 10,000 feet. The cameras can also be made explosion-proof.

“We have taken advantage of the newest video cameras and then incorporated them into hardened controllable enclosures in order to be able to use them on the rigs,” said Pool.
Right now the company’s hazard area and sub-sea cameras are on 150 offshore oil and gas facilities worldwide (two-thirds of those rigs are in the Gulf of Mexico), and its customers include BHP Billiton Ltd., Chevron Texaco Oil, ExxonMobil Oil, and Shell Oil and Refining. Each facility has an average of 16 cameras with most pointed at the facility itself, rather than out to sea, Pool said.

Sidus has worked with its partner, HERNIS Scan Systems AS of Arendal, Norway, to create groups of cameras that can be installed on multiple platforms and can be monitored by onshore operators. The information is sent digitally so it can be analyzed using computers. For example, the HERNIS 400 system controls as few as 16 cameras and 16 monitors and up to 992 cameras, 256 video monitors and 256 keyboards. Sidus also works with GE Security to incorporate sensors into the camera systems, which can detect leaking gas or other hazardous chemicals.

The thermal imaging cameras Sidus incorporates in its systems can detect items  as small as floating debris or a swimmer  two miles away in the dark, Pool said.
Marine forward-looking infrared (FLIR) will be used for security on LNG tankers calling at U.S. ports. FLIR Systems, of Wilsonville, Ore., is negotiating with a company that has a Department of Homeland Security grant to install thermal imaging cameras on all of its LNG tankers calling at terminals in the United States, said Lou Rota, vice president of marine sales.

The vessels will “have clear visibility of the platforms as they are approaching,” said Rota. “Any threat that’s in the area, near the platform, they are able to get a very clear profile of what is in front of them, before getting close to the platforms.”

The vessels will be provided with the SeaFLIR camera, which is gyro-stabilized and gimball-mounted to provide a clear, stable image despite being mounted on a moving surface. In addition, land-based thermal imaging cameras will be installed on the offshore platforms. These cameras can detect subtle variations in the heat signatures of objects. The infrared energy is focused onto an infrared detector then processed into a video image.

Advances in technology have brought the cost of these cameras down so that a basic marine camera now sells for $5,000, opening up this technology to more uses.
When it comes to an attack using a vessel, a Mississippi company has developed a high-definition surveillance radar that is paired with its own AIS system to detect and identify surface watercraft as small as a jet ski from seven miles away. When mounted on a structure like an oil rig, the radar would have a range of over 20 miles.

Ocean Technologies LLC of Diamondhead, Miss., has developed the surveillance radar, which has additional computer processors that allow it to track multiple targets and predict the course of those targets, according to Charles Riley, the company’s president.
The company has a contract with a major American oil company to install its high-definition surveillance radar at an oil refinery located on the shore, Riley said. The company did not want its name made public.

The radar system digitizes the analog display then feeds it into the computer processors, which quickly analyze the data. “Every speck of clutter becomes a piece of data,” said Riley. “What it does is allow us to track stuff that would not normally be tracked by any radar.” The computer system runs multiple hypotheses for a single target to help it track it if it is not picked up by the radar for several minutes. The radar can also predict collision courses.

The company has combined this high-definition radar with an AIS receiver. “You can see the guys who are not transmitting their positions,” he said.

The operators of the system can program a boundary into the system and establish triggers that would set off an alarm, such as a vessel going at high speed, Riley said. It could be set so that “any time a jet ski or larger gets within five miles of this oil rig, we want to know about it, even in high-seas conditions,” Riley said.

The radar and AIS system could be installed on separate oil rigs, but monitored at a central location onshore, Riley said. Since rigs in the gulf are close together, an AIS network could cover platforms from several different companies, he said.

By Professional Mariner Staff