'Citadels' and 'barbed wire on all ships' - the dangers of importing energy

Talks are being held over the supply of gas from Qatar. Photo:

Our increasing reliance on gas from abroad might just not push prices up for all of us, as Ofgem has warned today, but it leaves the UK more reliant on an energy supply from a very dangerous part of the world.

ITV News has seen documents obtained under Freedom of Information Act from the Foreign Office that reveal concerns being discussed by the UK and Qatari government that show just how fraught the situation is.

Around 40 percent of our gas came from Qatar last year, and had to travel through the Straits of Hormuz, a key waterway where the threat of piracy is a significant worry, described in documents as a 'major energy security issue'.

William Hague has held talks with gas suppliers from Qatar. Credit: Chris Ison/PA Wire/Press Association Images

The documents, obtained by the campaign group Greenpeace, show 10 meetings between William Hague, other ministers or officials from FCO and Qatar Holdings, Qatar Investment athority, Qatar Petroleum, Qatargas and Rasgas between February 2011 and July 2012.

They show that ships are having 'citadels' built into them, and putting barbed wire around them. And reports fears of the 'risk of an arms race on the high seas'.

The Foreign Office told me that the number of attacks has gone down recently. And that the UK has acted in coordination with other countries to protect imports, including giving permission for UK merchant ships to have armed private guards on board.

But there is no denying, the documents below reveal, that there are significant dangers relying on imports from a troubled region of the world.

Extracts from a briefing from UK Embassy in Doha on threat of piracy 18th May 2011

The document shows how officials’ concerns about the scale of the problem:

With 96 LNG vessels moving energy across the world 24/7 this wasn't about goods this was a major energy security issue.

And the extent of steps being taken to protect ships from the threat of pirates:

They had been lucky so far largely due to the size of vessels used and their speed but were now working hard to improve their protections, citadels had been built into a number of vessels, they were currently placing barbed wire around all ships and were looking to do more.

The Government has given permission to merchant ships to have private armed guards on board, but the documents show that there was a dispute about taking this action, with the possibility of unintended consequences, the risk of an arms race

There was a full discussion on the pros and cons of using on-board armed security teams- all agreed it wasn't simple.

The Qataris have so far decided against believing that an armed team on an LNG tanker ran its own significant risks.

Wider discussions revealed the very real concerns that armed ships meant better armed pirates and the risk of an arms race on the high seas.

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