Total Suspends Mozambique LNG Project After Deadly Terrorist Attack

Palma, center, and Total's Mozambique LNG project (Total)

Published Mar 29, 2021 10:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

Oil major Total has suspended work on its $20 billion LNG export megaproject in northern Mozambique after an attack by suspected Islamic State militants. Fighting is ongoing and the situation on the ground is in flux, but preliminary reports indicate that dozens of civilians have been killed.

On March 24, an armed group attacked the port of Palma, a key hub for Total's multi-billion-dollar natural gas export project for untapped reserves off the coast of Mozambique. According to Reuters, several hundred foreign civilian workers ended up trapped between government security forces and the militant group. Many were evacuated in an emergency boatlift to a town to the south. 

According to Human Rights Watch, the militants opened fire indiscriminately, attacking fleeing civilians as well as government forces. Initial reports indicate that one South African national and one British contractor were among the dead. 

“People were running and shouting ‘Al-Shabab is here … It’s Al-Shabab … They’re killing everybody,’" a civilian who worked in the local market told Human Rights Watch. “Some people were carrying their stuff and moving toward the bush [inland], others were running toward the beach.”

"Local suppliers and companies, these guys were heroes of the entire operation. In the wee hours they managed to coordinate and reach out to the evacuees on the beach and got them on to boats and got them into safety," a contractor told BBC. 

The attack did not directly impact the site of Total's gas facility, which is located several miles to the south, but many of the contractors and personnel who work on the LNG project reside in Palma. The incident marks a new setback for the French oil and gas major: Total had halted work on the project in January over security concerns, and it was preparing to reboot its efforts shortly before the militants swarmed the town. Total announced a renewed suspension of work on Monday. 

An estimated 2,500 people have been killed and 550-700,000 have been driven from their homes since the start of the Islamic State-linked insurgency in 2017. For the past year, Palma has been intermittently cut off from the rest of Mozambique by insurgent attacks on road convoys, according to Human Rights Watch, resulting in food shortages.