Oil platforms offer very appealing targets to terrorists and, off Nigeria at least, to bandits. Not only does terrorist occupation of an oil platform offer potential for impeding the flow of oil and destroying a valuable asset, it also has the potential for a massive environmental disaster. Think of the problems resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for example, and magnify that should terrorists sabotage one or more oil platforms. And there are also the oil workers who would be held hostage. Occupation of oil platforms off the coast of Nigeria has generally involved hostage taking and the threat of the destruction of the rig to extort concessions on oil revenues for local communities or to receive ransom for oil workers.
At least some governments and countries have chosen to take proactive measures to provide oil platform security. These may include radar, which scans the approaches for unidentified ships or boats, CCTV to scan the area around the platform, laser or other intruder-detection systems around the rig, MIDS (Marine Intruder Detection Sonar) to detect approaches from under the sea, patrols by small boats with armed crew members, and armed security personnel aboard the platform. Floating security barriers, such as the WhisprWave, may also be used to establish a security perimeter around a platform, normally with one entry point that channels any ships or boats approaching to the chosen point. Some security companies that provide oil platform protection hire personnel from naval and marine special warfare units who have extensive experience in threat assessment of oil platforms and other maritime assets to constantly evaluate platform security.
Using some combination of these protective techniques to stop terrorists/hijackers offers the best solution to protecting oil platforms. However, the naval special warfare units of those countries with a substantial number of oil platforms must be prepared, if necessary, to assault and retake a platform. Among the units especially well-trained to take down an oil platform are the U.S. Navy SEALs, the British SBS, Australian TAG (Tactical Assault Group) West, Indonesian PASKAL, Norwegian Marinejegerkommandoen, Danish Frømandskorpset, German Kampfschwimmer, and the Dutch SBS.
If a platform is taken, special operators tasked with retaking it face various problems. First, the location of an oil platform or platforms on the ocean allows hijackers to readily observe the area surrounding the platform to detect approaches. The very radar, infrared cameras, etc. that help protect a platform may be used by hijackers familiar with them or who force the operators to cooperate in watching for approaches. As a result, approaching helicopters or boats will immediately rouse their suspicions.
Almost certainly, hijackers/terrorists will take hostages aboard the oil platform and any assault forces must attempt to save them. Additionally, it is quite possible that the hijackers will rig the platform with explosives, which could destroy the platform, kill the hostages and create an environmental disaster.
In considering an assault on an oil platform, stealth and speed are critical. If a helicopter assault is to be carried out, it is best mounted at night using “stealth” helicopters such as those used by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment [Think OBL takedown]. Equipped to fly at night and in bad weather, special operations helicopters can quickly approach an objective and deliver an assault force via fast-roping onto the platform quickly. For a helicopter assault to work, however, it would be best carried on a moonless night, preferably with weather bad enough to keep the hijackers inside or under cover.
It is possible, but very difficult, for helicopter-borne snipers to take out targets on the platform at night and at any distance. Generally, a self-loading rifle with a night- vision optic would be used, but field of view can be a problem when using a night-vision optic at ranges beyond 50 yards. The U.S. Navy SEALs have a third-generation night rifle sight with 3.5X power and a 40-degree field of view. A very skilled helicopter-borne marksman could take out hijackers at night, but if it were necessary to assure a kill, multiple snipers would be optimum and that would require multiple helicopters.
Still another consideration with a helicopter assault is that hardcore terrorists might well have Stinger or other missiles and the helicopters would be sitting ducks while hovering to allow fast-roping. Helicopters could, in most circumstances, be used most effectively as a distraction by having them fly around the platform at some distance. Or, if resupply helicopters normally landed on the platform and the hijackers were willing to allow resupply, one might be used for a “Trojan Horse” insertion, but hijackers would most likely be very suspicious of anyone on board. Of the three most likely assault scenarios, a helicopter assault is least desirable unless operating against very inept hijackers.