Pirate Terrorists in Chesapeake Bay

This is a great movie-plot threat:

Pirates could soon find their way to the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. That’s assuming that a liquefied natural gas terminal gets built at Sparrows Point.

The folks over at the LNG Opposition Team have long said that building an LNG plant on the shores of the bay would surely invite terrorists to attack. They say a recent increase in piracy off the Somali coast is fodder for their argument.

Remember—if you don’t like something, claim that it will enable, embolden, or entice terrorists. Works every time.

Posted on May 18, 2009 at 1:38 PM37 Comments


Robotics May 18, 2009 2:04 PM

As a Bay area resident I am more concerned with pollution than terrorism on the bay. I’m much more interested in the potential enviromental impact than anything else.

BF Skinner May 18, 2009 2:08 PM

But if that’s the case, why then…huhhhhh-Gasp!-cough-cough-cough…New York city is ALSO a target for terroism.

Why we’ve been shipping LNG into and through the NYC harbor for decades! Funny how there’s never been an attack. Why not? Isn’t it easy? Everyone tells me hijacking a ship is easy. It’s never happened so it’s never going to happen.

There’s a collary though…if it happened once it’ll happen again…there were once pirates in the Cheasapeake…so they must be you just waiting, over the horizon for their chance…I wish we had that woman from Alaska here to keep an eye on them and say “hey now get back over there.”

lattera May 18, 2009 2:23 PM

I don’t like cow stomach served as a food. I predict that all the terrorists are going to unite and find ways to stuff our faces with cow stomachs. The worst part is, they’re going to use our own cows. With a little bit of intelligent thinking, they could even lace the cow stomach with that horrible swine flu causing massive amounts of stomach aches.

Kit May 18, 2009 2:23 PM

@BF Skinner:

Those Chesapeake pirates, lurking over the horizon, will of course reduce global warming[1] by their return.

[1] http://www.americanthinker.com/piratesarecool4.jpg

(In all seriousness, this is another unsurprising but depressing entry in the list of ways people use fear to try to gain an advantage for their cause. In the eyes of some of us, it weakens that cause, though. Thanks for the link.)

AppSec May 18, 2009 3:12 PM

You know, I agree with “security theater” being an issue…

but how many would have thought of 911 being a “movie theater plot” before it happened?

Just because it is far fetched, doesn’t mean it won’t or can’t happen.

Transformers will be here before you know it! (the robots, not the eletronic devices which already exist 😉 )

Clive Robinson May 18, 2009 3:12 PM

As far as LNG goes it is actually not that rewarding as a terrorist target.

Yes it has the potential to produce huge greasy balls of flame over target zero but usually no more dangerous (just a lot more spectacular) than some of the flare offs routienly carried out.

The simple fact is the stuff does not explode on it’s own and it has a fairly narrow ratio window to burn with ordinary air.

And depending on which natural gas you have it might be lighter than air as well (anybody else made soap bubles with LNG and lit them with a taper on the end of a stick, it sure impresses the 4-10year olds as well as some of their parents 8)

Me I’m more worried by the railway trucks full of chlorine gas and other industrial nasties that just get shunted into sidings etc.

pfogg May 18, 2009 3:29 PM

The argument that the proposed terminal represents an attractive nuisance, and would encourage attacks from “Al Qaida and Sunni extremist groups”, reminds me of the South Park premise that building walls attracts Mongolian invasions.

Davi Ottenheimer May 18, 2009 3:31 PM

@ Robotics

Agreed. The catastrophe at the start of this year barely made the news…


“On a recent weekend, 890,000 gallons of raw sewage and storm water spilled into San Francisco Bay from an overloaded World War II- era treatment plant. Five days earlier, a ruptured pipe released 400,000 gallons of filth into the bay. And those were just the big spills the public heard about.


Also during the storm, an East Bay Municipal Utility District wet weather station at Point Isabel discharged 2.3 million gallons of sewage into San Francisco Bay.”

Water quality breach reporting was not even required until recently. Eliminating the overflow/failures was also just required.


Maybe that’s why it doesn’t register as a terrorist target. Contaminate massive amounts of water or cause huge levels of pollution and it’s practically business as usual even though studies of the impact are scary:


“We can use this as a model for other contaminants, and it shows that many contaminants simply don’t go away once you stop polluting the environment,” Flegal said. “We’re seeing lead contamination from the 1960s still coming into the bay, and our calculations indicate it will be another 50 to 100 years before all the lead from gasoline emissions in the Central Valley is washed into the bay.”

Petréa Mitchell May 18, 2009 3:38 PM

Here’s an older version: In the mid-1980s, the USS Missouri, a very large and important ship, was going to be sent to San Francisco. One of the objections raised by some locals was that having such a high-profile ship in town would make SF a potential casualty should war break out with the Soviet Union. Cooler heads pointed out that the substantial supply of military forces and research establishments in the vicinity probably meant that the whole SF Bay area was already pretty high on the Soviets’ list.

Jon Lennox May 18, 2009 3:46 PM

If only they hadn’t named it “Sparrow’s Point”, no one would be worried about pirates.

Anonymous May 18, 2009 3:50 PM

They make it sound like terrorists are birds that can be attracted to feeders or something.

Erin May 18, 2009 3:51 PM

Semi-related: a Sunoco refinery in Delaware had a big explosion last night.

None of the reports I read had the formerly ubiquitous coda “There is no suspicion of terrorism.”

Good on the local news for finally getting that right. And shame on these fear-mongers for trying to keep a dead meme alive.

Cmos May 18, 2009 4:02 PM

that is one hell of a ride on a boat from somalia. Unless they mean those Canadian pirates coming down from the north.

Ensign Chekov May 18, 2009 4:22 PM

@SF Bay area was already pretty high on the Soviets’ list

Vich vay to ze nuclear wessels?

Ward S. Denker May 18, 2009 7:11 PM

“The affidavit, written by Charles S. Faddis, a CIA officer who retired in 2008 as the head of the weapons of mass destruction terrorism unit, suggests that Al Qaida and Sunni extremist groups are the biggest threat to the proposed project.”

I think that’s about as glowing a recommendation as the project is going to get. He could have said that the biggest threat was meteorites and done a tad better, but not much.

chelo May 18, 2009 7:31 PM

Y que me dices de la gripe porcina, no sera cosa de los terrorista, pues todo empeso en México, y a quien tiene de vecino si no
a EE.UU . todos sabemos que muchos cruzan la frontera a esta nación.cuando no pueden actuar porque todo esta vigilado mar,tierra aire …es una manera de introducir un virus, lo malo es que se propague por todo el globo o no…

Roxanne May 18, 2009 8:21 PM

Oh, yeah, like there are no terrorist targets on the Chesapeake already.


Clive Robinson May 18, 2009 8:49 PM

@ AppSec,

“but how many would have thought of 911 being a “movie theater plot” before it happened?”

It was actually a “book plot” by atleast two authors, and had been seriously considered a major threat that stinger missiles on the White House (to deal with cranks in light aircraft) could not deal with.

And it had been seriously considered in pretty much all designs of reactor containment buildings etc (which is one of the reasons the nuclear option of power generation is oh so expensive up front).

Filias Cupio May 18, 2009 9:46 PM

A cargo ship full of ammonium nitrate fertilizer is much more dangerous than an LNG terminal. These already have a proven ability to explode ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_City_Disaster .)

That is my current favourite terrorist movie plot – terrorists hijack fertilizer ship, while not allowing a distress call to go out. While on the high seas, they pump the ship’s fuel oil over the cargo, and proceed to a major port city. The first external sign of trouble is when they refuse to allow a pilot on board, at which point they are perhaps 30 minutes away from grounding the ship next to City Hall and detonating it.

Having said all that, there are countermeasures already in place in some parts of the world. Some are listed in http://www.slate.com/id/2111955/ .

Jim A May 18, 2009 9:53 PM

As somebody who used to work in the Pentagon, it took very little imagination to come up with a “movie plot,” where terrorists flew a jetliner into the Pentagon. The normal flight path to Reagan National is directly towards the pentagon until the planes veer at tha last minute over the 14th st bridge and come in for a landing. Of course in MY movie the jetliners were remote controlled.

Retired Gas Guy May 18, 2009 11:51 PM

LNG is not shipped into NY harbor, at least not for delivery to either Con Edison or National Grid the two utilities serving the city, but it is shipped into the Boston area. I worked for National Grid for 35+ years & I was in their Greenpoint plant back in the early 1970’s when they were trying to convince the fire department to allow LNG barges into the harbor but they weren’t successful. They spent a ton of money on safety equipment but they still couldn’t get the NYFD to budge excepting a few test deliveries done during one winter way back then. Each barge delivery was escorted by a coast guard boat so pirates would have had to deal with them if that was made a permanent requirement.

Wyle_E May 19, 2009 2:39 AM

The U.S. Navy may be stretched too thin to patrol the coast of Somalia, but Chesapeake Bay? There is probably enough naval traffic in and out of the Norfolk Naval Operating Base to deter pirates, even without any scheduled patrols.

BTW, my idea of a movie-plot threat would make a lousy movie plot (no bang-bang, and it’s too slow), but a memetic attack is a huge force multiplier. Just spread ideas like…

Your credentials are more important than what you actually know.

All cultures have equal value.

A bunch of bronze-age herdsmen had a better model of the universe than any later scientist has been able to devise.

Emotional arguments should trump reason.

Studying the real universe is for geeks.

It isn’t necessary for a Manager to know anything about his company’s product.

Most of our educational resources should be devoted to Special Needs children; the annoying bright ones can take care of themselves.

Trading liberty for the feeling of security is a good deal.

… and a few hundred more.

This attack would make a lousy movie plot, but it’s hellishly effective.

Bill May 19, 2009 2:56 AM

l didn’t realize piracy and terrorism were the same thing. When I finally meet my aspiration of becoming a pirate of the high seas, I’m pretty sure the first thing I do with my loot of LNG won’t be a suicide mission into the harbor.

Thanks to Mr. Ex-CIA, I’m definitely much clearer on the gray areas regarding the fencing of my loot. I thought I was going to have to higher international lawyers and stuff to work it out for me.

Now, will I have to provide health insurance to my ‘mates’ if each (or I guess just the one) mission successfully results in the exploding of all parties involved?

bill May 19, 2009 3:58 AM

‘A bunch of bronze-age herdsmen had a better model of the universe than any later scientist has been able to devise’

Not true! As an ex-astrophysicist, I can now account for a full 4% of the stuff the Universe is made of. Let me walk you through it.

Assume a spherical sheep of uniform density….

Anonymous May 19, 2009 5:59 AM

@Jim A
As somebody who used to work in the Pentagon, it took very little imagination to come up with a “movie plot,” where terrorists flew a jetliner into the Pentagon. The normal flight path to Reagan National is directly towards the pentagon until the planes veer at tha last minute over the 14th st bridge and come in for a landing. Of course in MY movie the jetliners were remote controlled.

The other major difference between movie/TV/book plots is that authors tend to assume that they won’t be able to fly off course for any length of time without attracting military attention.

Hence in “The Lone Gunmen” you have a 727 which is on course but much lower than it should be. (They probably thought that the viewers wouldn’t realise that flying a plane that low drastically ups fuel consumption).

In Dale Brown’s “Storming Heaven” the terrorists file a flight plan for their repinted 747 which takes it near the intended target.

christopher May 19, 2009 6:47 AM

Chesapeake? Try the NJ Turnpike. You have a major railhead near a Cogen plant and an intermodal yard for all sorts of chemicals, not to mention all of the refineries and storage tanks left over from Rockefeller-era oil industry. Even easier: Bayonne storage tanks are accessible by anyone with a bolt cutter.

Forget pirates, worry about anyone with a driver’s license and a Home Depot gift card.


Anonymous May 19, 2009 7:13 AM


“Your credentials are more important than what you actually know”.

All too true. One senior policeman told me after graduation on a degree that (academically) he did not need; “As an expert witness in court, say that you have twenty years (computer forensics) experience and people turn their noses up. Say that you have a Master’s degree from the University of Wherever in computer forensics, and everybody listens.

Or see this story http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/somerset/8056307.stm

The “discredited” expert falsely claimed (in court = perjury) that he had a First degree in electronics obtained many years ago. Despite his expertise, he clearly felt he needed to have a degree. His evidence was rarely challenged for competence.

(In this story, I suspect the police wanted to seize the work he was doing for the defence in some case.)

Anonymous May 19, 2009 9:14 AM

If you live in Boston, which has one of the four on-shore LNG terminals in the USA, you might think otherwise. It may be a movie-plot threat but maybe only because a lot of thought has gone into limiting the risks associated with accidental and intentional spills.

The best analyzes of the risks associated with LNG tankers comes from Sandia Labs:

Breach and Safety Analysis of Spills Over Water from Large Liquefied Natural Gas Carriers

SAND2004-6258. Guidance on Risk Analysis and Safety Implications of a Large Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Spill Over Water

From the 2008 Report (which focuses on intentional breaches of large LNG carriers):

“As discussed in the 2004 Sandia LNG report, a pool fire is the most likely outcome from the breach of an LNG tanker due to the high probability of immediate ignition of the LNG during the event.”

“With this modest increase in thermal hazard distances, the most significant impacts to public safety and property for near-shore operations are still approximately 500 m of a spill, with lower public health and safety impacts at distances beyond approximately 1600 m.”

Steven Hoober May 19, 2009 10:43 AM

For everyone talking about how the airliner attacks on 9/11 were/were-not movie plot threats, also check out the hijacking of AF8969. Several things failed, but among them that pilots cannot generally be forced to do things like fly airplanes into the Eiffel Tower.

The bad guys kept the plan, rethought the execution and while some CT experts predicted this (people always try the same idea over and over) not enough paid attention.

On 9/10, it was not a movie plot threat, but a known real threat just waiting to happen.

moo May 19, 2009 10:52 AM

@Anonymous after bill:
There is at least one other book which had the “crash plane into building” terrorist plot in it before 9/11, namely, Tom Clancy’s “Debt of Honor” in which a disgruntled commercial air liner pilot crashes his 747 directly into capitol hill during a joint session of Congress, simultaneously killing nearly the entire senate, congress, cabinet, and all of the supreme court. That book was published in 1994.

J Sparrrow, III May 19, 2009 4:57 PM

aye, you’re trying to pull me back home. it won’t work, swabbies.

Rupert H. May 21, 2009 6:22 AM

Speaking of Tom Clancy, the last time I went fishing on the Chesapeake, we went past Clancy’s house. He had a Sherman tank in his garden. Surely that ought to be enough to deter piracy.

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