Statoil had braced for lengthy crisis

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Helge Lund, chief executive of Norwegian state oil company Statoil, was the one to go live on national TV in Norway Thursday morning, to address the ongoing hostage drama at one of the company’s gas processing plants in Algeria. He had some new figures on the numbers of Norwegians involved but stressed that the situation remained highly unclear, more than a day after the plant was attacked by radical Islamists. Statoil, he indicated, was prepared for a lengthy stand-off in the Sahara.

Statoil CEO Helge Lund led off a nationally televised press conference Thursday morning on the hostage drama that continues to unfold in Algeria. He said five Norwegians were in safety and 12 remained unaccounted for. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Statoil CEO Helge Lund led off a nationally televised press conference Thursday morning on the hostage drama that continues to unfold in Algeria. He said five Norwegians were in safety and 12 remained unaccounted for. PHOTO: NRK screen grab/newsinenglish.no

Lund confirmed that Statoil had 17 employees “at or near” the facility and that 12 of them (nine of whom are Norwegian) remained unaccounted for Thursday morning. That means they either have been taken hostage or, as one international news bureau reported Thursday morning, have been killed, but Lund could offer no further information on the report, or confirm it, nor could Foreign Minister Espen BarthEide.

Lund said another five Statoil employees (four Norwegians and one Canadian), are now known to have “come into safety” at a nearby military camp set up as part of what had been considered to be heavy security systems around the plant at Il Amenas in southeastern Algeria, which Statoil operates along with BP of the UK and Algerian state energy company Sonatrach.

Statoil won’t identify any of its 12 employees believed held at the plant, for security reasons. “We don’t want to say anything that could make their situation worse,” Lund said.

He added that he had no information on the total number of hostages still being held at the plant. As many as 41 workers from around 10 countries including the US, France, Japan, the UK and Ireland are believed to be among them.

Rushed home to deal with crisis
Lund was traveling in Asia when the gas plant was attacked early Wednesday morning, and he flew back to Norway immediately. He said at the 7:30am press conference held at Statoil’s headquarters south of Stavanger on Thursday that “the most important” issues now are the safety of the hostages, efforts to free them and the efforts to take care of their families. Statoil has set up a main crisis center in Bergen, which Lund intended to visit later in the day, and has staff available around the country so that those closest to the 12 persons unaccounted for aren’t alone.

Most of them, according to Statoil officials, have long experience with working in Algeria and all have undergone training for dealing with emergency situations. Statoil has its own preparedness unit, with Lund stressing that “training, training, training” is the best way to equip employees for accidents, attacks and, in this situation, being taken hostage.

He didn’t want to speculate on how long the current hostage crisis may drag on but said that “we are prepared that this can take time.” Algerian authorities have primary responsibility for dealing with the terrorists who have taken over the gas plant, where all production has been shut down.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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