Just when the State administration gets rapped by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for dragging its feet on empowering the coastal police to secure the littoral waters and vital installations along Kerala’s coastline, security of BPCL-Kochi’s high-value oil terminals has come under the scanner all over again.

While the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) deployed under the Cochin Port Trust safeguards the Cochin oil terminal besides the south and north tanker berths against seaborne threats, securing the single point mooring (SPM) located some 10 nautical miles (19 km) from the shore has been a sore issue for the state-owned oil firm.

The SPM, a buoy that acts as a mooring point and interconnect for very large crude carriers to load/offload oil or gas, doesn’t enjoy the security cover it should, left as it is to the wits of two unarmed security guards sporting binoculars, night vision devices and cell phones keeping watch over it from a maintenance-cum-support vessel operated by the oil company. While all coastal security stakeholders are on the same page about beefing up security to the vital buoy, nobody wants to take the lead in belling the cat.

Discussions have come to such a pass that BPCL-Kochi is set to reiterate its plea for enhanced security measures to the buoy at a high-level meeting of oil firm representatives to be convened by the Union Home Ministry at New Delhi on Monday.

Despite the ban on fishing within a nautical mile from the buoy, fishing boats were often found to violate the ban, said a Coast Guard official. The threat was all the more heightened given the SPM’s proximity to the international maritime boundary line. A fishing boat with masked registration signboard could be commandeered by someone to ram it, said a BPCL official. After the issue cropped up at the coastal security meetings held by the Coast Guard and the Navy, it was generally agreed that the security of the SPM is “practical only by a force with seagoing capability, seaworthy vessel and authority.”

At the moment, the coastal police have none of the capabilities.

The embattled BPCL-Kochi held discussions with the CISF, which following a security evaluation, demanded the oil company to cough up Rs.30 crore (for purchase of seaworthy boats and other infrastructure facilities) to take on the job.

“That was a prohibitively expensive proposal and given the additional operating expenses, this would have strangled our business,” said Captain Haridas Mathilakath, chief security officer of BPCL-Kochi.

“Further, CISF is at a loss to check underwater threats, which makes it mandatory for one of the seagoing security forces, the Navy or the Coast Guard, to offer help.”

The SPM operated by the Indian Oil Corporation at Vadinar in Gujarat is guarded by the Coast Guard, with the IOC footing the security bill.

At the New Delhi meeting on Monday, the BPCL-Kochi Refinery will most likely suggest the Centre launch a similar mechanism for all oil and natural gas facilities close to the coast, with the companies joining hands to meet the security expenditure.

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