March 21, 2003 – Statements attributed to top government officials in Aruba have led to heightened security around the Hovensa refinery.
A report published Thursday in the oil industry newsletter Oil Express suggests elements opposed to U.S. military action in Iraq are weighing a possible attack against U.S. refineries in the Caribbean.
"Of specific interest to Islamic fundamentalists: the 495,000 b/d [barrels a day] Hess refinery in the Virgin Islands, and El Paso's 250,000 b/d facility in Aruba," the report said.
Oil Express is a weekly newsletter published by OPIS, a group of New Jersey-based industry specialists who track the price of oil and petroleum products for a confidential client list of top oil companies, distributors, traders and buyers.
An executive at Amerada Hess, the parent company of Hess Oil Virgin Islands Corp., the local component of Hovensa, said company officials were aware of the possible threat but could not verify whether the information is reliable. Security measures are, however, being taken.
"Yes, we've seen the story," Carl Tursi, Amerada Hess vice president, said from New York. He said Hess officials "don't know where it came from," but "we have extra security at the refinery. The Coast Guard is there. The National Guard is on alert, as it is around the nation."
Tursi added: "We notified the FBI, but they were already aware of it."
The Oil Express item cited intelligence reports circulating through Aruba's government last week. "The first hint of a plausible threat to the two facilities came from an attorney in Aruba who allegedly received information from the Prime Minister of Aruba, Nelson Oduber," the article said.
Oduber reportedly said that if the United States attacked Iraq, Islamic fundamentalists based in South America would strike the U.S.-held refinery in Aruba.
Intelligence reports obtained by Oil Express pointed to a group of al-Qaida sympathizers in Sudan and a man identified as "Saudi Abu Zahid" who told the group in 2002 that terrorists would attack terminals, pipelines and ships. "He implied possible attacks against the Amerada Hess facility in St. Croix," the article said.
Hovensa spokesman Alexander A. Moorhead said on Friday that the refinery already has procedures in place to follow as the level in the national threat assessment rises. Since U.S. forces began their strike in Iraq, the level has risen to Code Orange, or high alert, which is second only fo Code Red, the highest level.
Moorhead, Hovensa's vice president for government relations and community affairs, said: "We do have steps that we take as the national security level changes, but I wouldn't want to go into any further detail, because we wouldn't want that to become public information."
Security at the St. Croix refinery — the largest in the Western Hemisphere — has been the ongoing subject of talks between Hovensa and the V.I. National Guard since the fall of 2001. The talks were initiated soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the mainland, Moorhead said, and have continued periodically since.
V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency officials also are paying close attention to Hovensa. Harold Baker, VITEMA director, said he has been in dialogue with refinery officials as well as V.I. port operations managers and the Water and Power Authority since national homeland security operations began last fall.

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