x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

US wary of Yemeni gas tankers

Us government is likely to tighten its checks on LNG import ships coming from Yemen in wake of recent events.

The US government is considering tighter security checks on liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers arriving at American ports from Yemen, after the mayor of Boston raised concerns that they could be used by militants. The measures under consideration may be similar to new guidelines for passengers arriving from countries about which the US has security concerns, a Boston security official said.

The mayor, Thomas Menino, has reached agreement with the head of the US homeland security department, Janet Napolitano, on the need for improved security measures on tankers carrying LNG due to arrive at the city's port from Yemen, said Donald McGough, the director of emergency preparedness for Boston. "Until we have sufficient information and opportunity to enhance security measures, we don't intend to support the scheduled arrival of Yemen-originating tankers," Mr McGough added.

Yemen has come under international scrutiny as a suspected base for members of al Qa'eda after revelations that the Nigerian man accused of plotting to blow up a US-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day had been trained there. LNG, which is explosively flammable, has been viewed as a prime potential US target for militants since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Last month, al Qa'eda warned that its future targets could include seaborne vessels.

The homeland security department confirmed talks have taken place between Ms Napolitano and Mr Menino. A spokesman for the US coast guard said Ms Napolitano later met the coast guard commandant, Thad Allen. Boston is particularly concerned about risks associated with LNG tankers because cargoes travel close to its residential areas on their way to a gas-receiving terminal, which was built in 1972, on the city's outskirts.

The planned arrival within weeks of the first Yemeni shipments is stoking those fears. "Yemen is an evolving threat for us," Mr McGough said. "We want to make sure we know who and what is on board." GDF Suez, which operates the tankers carrying the fuel from Yemen and owns the terminal near Boston, confirmed that the cargoes were set for delivery by the end of March. Yemen's only LNG production plant, operated by the French energy group Total, started shipments just two months ago after a series of construction delays.

The LNG project is considered vital to boost the economy of the impoverished Arab nation, which has previously depended on revenues from oil exports. But those have been falling in recent years as the declining output from maturing oilfields has not been offset by new oil discoveries and production. Yemen pumped 305,000 barrels a day of oil in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available.

The country's internal security situation has deteriorated sharply in recent months, with rebels from the disaffected Houthi tribe in northern Yemen and secessionists in the south vying to topple the government. @Email:tcarlisle@thenational.ae