Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 July 2019

BP chief Robert Dudley warns of threats to shipping as he defends the firm’s reputation

Iranian threats to seize a British oil tanker have forced energy giant BP to be extra careful in the Arabian Gulf

Bob Dudley said climate activists and companies like BP needed to engage in dialogue. Reuters
Bob Dudley said climate activists and companies like BP needed to engage in dialogue. Reuters

Robert Dudley has given an insight into the BP's efforts to cope with rising tensions in the region as he discussed how the oil giant ensures it does not accidentally break sanctions levied against countries such as Russia and Iran.

In the context of its relationship with Russia, he insisted that commerce was a vital tool in keeping communication channels open between countries in difficult times despite diplomatic tensions between western capitals and Moscow.

Mr Dudley was speaking at London’s Chatham House only hours before news broke that armed Iranian boats had tried to intercept a BP-owned tanker, that was being shadowed by a British navy frigate, as it moved into the Strait of Hormuz. Mr Dudley, who has headed up BP since 2010 and rebuilt it since it nearly collapsed after an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, also tried to address numerous perceptions about the company he felt were incorrect.

“We’ve just got to be really careful about our ships. For those of you who don’t know, I think they’ve threatened to seize a British oil tanker somewhere, anywhere, so we’ve of course got to be careful about that,” he said.

“BP does not do business and has not done business in Iran for a long, long time. We are very, very careful about the sanctions. What I said about trading and moving energy around the world requires a huge amount of due diligence and care because of the accidental straying into sanctions,” Mr Dudley added.

The company recently became embroiled in a corruption scandal after it was alleged by the BBC that the brother of Senegal’s president had improperly benefited from a BP purchase of gas licenses off the coast of the west African country. BP insists it has done its due diligence into the deal.

Roughly 20 people flying Senegalese flags protested outside Chatham House before, during and after Mr Dudley’s appearance. The BP chief slammed the BBC report as “sensational” and “inaccurate” journalism that had tainted what should have been a positive story looking at the prosperity the deal would bring to Senegal.

BP has begun an investigation into the alleged improprieties but Mr Dudley said he felt the “sensational accusations” were pushed by opposition political parties.

“I think what’s really sad about is it perpetuates the view that you cannot or should not do business in Africa and I think that’s just a shame really,” he said

“It’ll bring jobs it’ll bring energy, it’ll bring natural gas to the global markets which will displace coal – it’s good for the environment. I mean it’s really one of the most exciting energy stories this year in the world.”

Sir Mark Rylance resigned from the Royal Shakespeare Company last month over its BP sponsorship and a pattern has begun to emerge of arts companies including the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum being criticised for their relationships with the energy company.

Mr Dudley, who said he welcomed peaceful, safe protests, insisted the outcry, which he described as “odd,” came from only a “small, very vocal minority.”

“The rest of the world finds this the oddest approach,” he said. But Mr Dudley said there needed to be “dialogue and understanding” between the sides and a realisation that companies like BP, given their understanding of the sector, needed to be involved in the energy transition.

BP also has extensive commercial interests in Russia and Mr Dudley serves on the board of state company Rosneft.

Mr Dudley said Russian president Vladimir Putin had shown “lots” of interest in the oil sector but admitted western sanctions on Russia did create issues with BP forced to spend lots of time doing due diligence to ensure it was not breaking the law. He argued that business kept channels open during diplomatic disputes and said the recent bout of trade protectionism in some areas of the world would only harm global prosperity.

“There are many, many opportunities in Russia that we say ‘no, we can’t’ because of the sanctions and so it does change what we could do.”

“My view on this is business and commerce builds bridges between countries, and when all the other bridges are gone commerce actually keeps some of the channels open. I think it’s really important.”

Updated: July 11, 2019 06:16 PM

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