LONDON (Reuters) - Coalition naval forces are helping to guard vital oil
installations in top exporter Saudi Arabia as part of heightened security following an al Qaeda threat last month, naval sources
said on Friday.
In their sights are the kingdom's Ras Tanura terminal, the world's biggest
offshore oil export facility, and Bahrain's Bapco refinery.
"Acting on information received, Coalition naval forces, operating in support
of Saudi and Bahraini forces have deployed units to counter a possible maritime threat to the oil facilities at Ras Tanura,"
Britain's Royal Navy in Dubai said in a statement.
Saudi Arabia's own security forces and navy are guarding strategic oil facilities
and coalition forces are patrolling only in international waters.
"Coalition forces are taking the prudent, precautionary measures and focusing
on maritime security operations in the Gulf on these possible threats," said Kevin Aandahl, spokesman for the U.S. Naval Forces
Central Command in Bahrain.
"We're constantly and routinely conducting maritime security operations
in the Gulf and international waters and these operations deny terrorists the use of the maritime environment as a venue for
A Saudi security adviser also said any operations in the Gulf were entirely
routine and added there had been no further threat since al Qaeda on September 11 said it would target economic interests
in the Gulf.
"This is part of the on-going exercises between the U.S., British, Bahraini
and Kuwaiti forces... in the Gulf," said Nawaf Obaid.
Oil prices initially rose about 30 cents to around $61 as traders recalled
a foiled attack in February on Saudi Arabia's huge Abqaiq facility, the world's biggest oil processing plant.
Crude oil shipments were continuing as normal from the kingdom's main east
coast terminal, industry sources said.
Riyadh is exporting around 7 million barrels per day (bpd) of oil to world
markets, with Ras Tanura handling most of it. The terminal has the capacity to export 6 million bpd.
It was unclear how much oil the terminal was exporting on Friday and national
oil company Saudi Aramco declined to make any comment.
In an interview with Reuters in July, Vice Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, who
is in charge of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said he was concerned that al Qaeda might attack oil facilities from the
He said the unsuccessful attack on the Abqaiq oil facility in February had
made him especially wary.
"When I look at that, my first reaction is that they (al Qaeda) are going
to turn to the sea. I recognize that when they are thwarted in one direction they turn to another."