was a ship, but its job was not to sail from here to there. Instead, it remained stationary at anchor in the port of Klaip.e.da, on Lithuania's Baltic coast, and it just sat there, connected to a long jetty with mounting and mooring devices, steel connecting bridges, and a massive pipeline link.
The supertanker had sailed into port to much fanfare a year earlier because everyone knew it was going to be a game changer for the Lithuanians. And although now it was, essentially, a fixed object bobbing in the water and no longer much of a ship, it had achieved its mission.Independence
was its name, but this was also its objective. It was a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage and regasification unit, the first of its kind.
Lithuania had been dependent on Russia for its gas and electricity needs for decades. On a whim determined by the political winds of the region, Russia could either raise the price of gas or reduce the flow. They had done this multiple times over the past few years, and as tensions between the Baltic nations and Russia grew, Lithuania's dependence on its neighbor's goodwill became a clear and present danger to its national security.
An LNG import facility stood to change this. With the Independence
and the pipeline from the port, LNG shipments from Norway now could be delivered by tanker, off-loaded onto the regasification facility, and turned into the natural gas necessary for the nation.
This way, if the Russians once again turned off their gas pipelines, or once again raised the prices to extortionist rates, Lithuania and its allied neighbors needed only to exercise their option to turn on the safety valve provided by the Independence
The process for regasification is highly technical and precise, but surprisingly simple to understand. In order to transport a large volume of gas, it needs to be converted into liquid, thus condensing it by a factor of six hundred. This is accomplished by dropping the temperature of the gas to -160 degrees. The liquefied form of the commodity is transported at this temperature in specially designed tankers, in this case from Norway to Lithuania. Here the LNG is pumped into the storage tanks of the Independence
, where the regasification system superheats the liquid with propane and seawater, returning it to its gas form. The gas is then pumped into tubes that off-load it through the port of Klaipe.da and then along an eighteen-kilometer pipeline to the metering facility. From there it goes directly to Lithuanian homes, where it provides much-needed heat for the long Baltic winters.
The $330 million project was already serving its purpose from an economic standpoint. Russia dropped the price of its gas the day the Independence
went online so they could compete with the Norwegian gas.
But to say that the Russians weren't happy about this was a great understatement. Moscow did not take kindly to energy-export competition in Europe. It was accustomed to its monopoly and it had used it to threaten Russia's neighbors, to enrich the nation, and, perhaps most important, to mask Russia's myriad other economic problems. Russian president Valeri Volodin, in typical hyperbolic fashion, had even gone so far as to claim that Lithuania's new natural gas facility was nothing short of an act of war.
Lithuania, like many of the other former Russian satellites, was used to incendiary rhetoric from Moscow, so the government in Vilnius just ignored Volodin's threats and imported large quantities of natural gas via Russian pipelines and small quantities of LNG from Norway via the Baltic Sea, and the Independence
served as a model for other Baltic nations to work to develop their own secondary option for energy.
The rest of Europe had a hand in the building and delivery of the Independence
to Lithuania. Stability in the region was in everyone's interests, after all, and NATO nations who could be pressured or controlled outright by Russia's energy exports were a weak link in the chain.
It was therefore said that while Lithuania relied on the Independence
for its energy, Europe as a whole relied on the Independence
for its security.
A middle-aged German electrical contractor walking along the jetty noticed the body floating in the water, and this saved his life.
He'd come to work early this morning to check some misbehaving circuits in the off-loading pumping station, only to find his truck stuck behind a locked gate. Deciding it would be faster to walk to the pumping station than to wait for someone to bring a key, he'd started off along the 1,400-foot-long jetty at a pace spurred on by his annoyance that his morning hadn't started out well at all. He was only a quarter of the way along when he looked to his left and noticed something bobbing down below in the water, at the far reaches of the jetty lights.
At first he thought it was just a large piece of trash, but he stopped to make sure. Stepping up to the railing and looking over, he pulled an industrial-grade headlamp out of his backpack and flipped it on, holding it in his hands and shining it out on the water.
A diver in a wetsuit, a silver tank on his back, floated facedown, arms and legs out.
The German electrician spoke little Lithuanian, but he called out anyway. "Labas!
" Hi! "Labas?
There was no reaction from the diver twenty meters from the jetty. As he looked closer he could see long blond hair floating around the body's head, the small, thin form, and he realized it was a woman, perhaps quite young.
The contractor struggled to get his walkie-talkie out, but by the time he did so it occurred to him that there would be no one else on his channel till his coworkers got in to work in another hour. He couldn't remember the security channel, so he just began running back along the jetty in the direction of the Port Security office.
And this decision, born out of panic, made the German electrician Lithuania's luckiest man of the year.
Several hundred yards from the frantic electrician, the Independence
sat quietly on still, black waters on a cold October morning, bathed in the lights on the deck and positioned on the attached jetty and pumping station.
The ship and the jetty were not attached to the Lithuanian mainland; instead they were connected to Kiaul.es Nugara Island in the Curonian Lagoon, at the mouth of the port of Klaip.eda. The waters all around were busy with port traffic during the day, but now, at eight minutes after four in the morning, the water was nearly empty from the LNG facility to the sea gate at the mouth of the lagoon, other than a pair of small rigid-hulled inflatable boats crisscrossing the water slowly and nearly silently. The security men on the boats had no clue the electrician was racing along the jetty, because the enormous supertanker was positioned between the patrol boats and the running man.
The boats passed within twenty yards of each other on their patrol. The men on the decks of the boats glanced across the water at one another, but they passed close too many times a shift to call out greetings or wave hands every time.
Security here at the port was relatively tight, and there were all sorts of impediments to a terrorist attack by land or by water. But even though the guards at the pumping station, on the island, on the Independence
, and in the patrol boats were reasonably vigilant, nobody thought anything serious could ever happen here.
Yes, a month earlier protesters had shown up in small wooden boats and charged the facility through the sea gate. They brought along colorful signs demanding an end to globalization and they had a bullhorn through which one of the protesters shouted expletives at port workers, and they had milk jugs full of oil they planned to sling at the supertanker to demonstrate something of desperate importance.
They hadn't been altogether clear on just what that was.
It was lost on the protesters that this was a natural gas operation, not oil, and their jugs of oil would inevitably end up in the water.
Fortunately for the ocean around, the two patrol boats had converged on the wooden boats and detained the protesters before they could get close enough to the supertanker to be any sort of a danger.
This was the main type of threat the security guards had in mind, because the Independence
was built incredibly tough. It had a double hull of milled steel, and inside that, the hyper-chilled LNG was protected by thermally insulated membrane tanks. An RPG from the coast or Molotov cocktails or IEDs would have little effect on the big structure.
Fully loaded with six million cubic feet of liquefied natural gas, the Independence
possessed the energy of fifty-five nuclear bombs, but there was only an eighth of its maximum capacity in its storage tanks, and again, it would take one hell of a massive bomb to breach the side of the ship and ignite the gas.
The patrol boats passed near the LNG tanker, just two hundred yards to the east or so, but it was exceptionally dark here. The two men on the decks would have required superhuman vision and focus to see the anomaly right in front of them. Instead, both boats motored on. One to the north, one to the south.
In their wake several small trails of bubbles rose to the black surface, then quickly dissipated. The security vessels had noticed nothing, and they just continued their patrols.
The electrician flagged down a security officer in a pickup at the end of the jetty and in broken English explained that he'd spotted a dead female in the lagoon. The security officer was dubious but deferential. He told the German to climb into his vehicle so he could direct him to the spot on the jetty.
Just as the electrician closed the door, a flash of light caused both men to look out the windshield, straight ahead at the giant ship. A glow emanated from the far side of the vessel and silhouetted it, then a thin flame skyrocketed up, ripping open the darkness, and the fireball that came next turned the night to day.
The security officer behind the wheel of the pickup had been well briefed on the fact that the Independence
was toughly built but nevertheless essentially a huge bomb. He jacked the pickup into reverse, stomped on the gas, and raced backward over an eighth of a mile, literally chased by a series of roaring explosions that rocked the jetty and sent debris and shock waves in all directions.
The pickup finally bounced back into a ditch along the side of the access road into the facility. Here the guard and the electrician bailed out of the vehicle and dove into the mud.
They felt the heat over them, they heard shrapnel sprinkle the ground all around, and they heard the sirens from the jetty, but above all they heard the thundering death of Lithuania's game changer.
The communiqué from the perpetrators arrived the way these things do nowadays: A Twitter account was registered, and a single tweet was posted. This linked to a nine-minute video that began with a nighttime shot of a group of four masked men and one woman standing together, apparently somewhere along a dark highway.
A low-quality night-vision lens on the camera gave an eerie feel to the footage as they crept through a forest, but to military experts the five subjects of the video moved less like trained special operators and more like children playing a game. A man used bolt cutters on a barbed-wire fence, then he and the others passed through, right next to a sign that read:
More creeping around paved roads and concrete buildings, a shaky zoom-in on a guard sitting in a tower in the distance. Then a chain on a cargo container was defeated with the same bolt cutters, and soon all five individuals were hauling crates out of the facility, back through the barbed-wire fence.
Inside a room with plenty of light now, the five crates were shown lined up on the floor, their lids open. Inside were bread loaf-sized boxes, a half-dozen in each crate. The only writing visible on the boxes read Composition Four
Again, those in the military would easily recognize C-4, a military plastic explosive.
A lot of it.
A woman with a French accent spoke English; she held up what she said was a detonator, claimed all the equipment was from the American military and it had been liberated from a NATO storage facility in France.
The scene moved and the camera was back outside in the dark again, filming in grainy green night vision. Five people knelt at the water's edge wearing wetsuits, swim masks, and snorkels. Tanks and vests were stacked next to them. Through a telephoto lens the camera recorded jerking images of the Independence
LNG facility and the port beyond.
A close-up shot of the shoreline showed a coffee table-sized item completely enshrouded in black plastic next to the divers. Strapped to the plastic-covered box were several scuba vests, and one scuba tank was strapped to the top. A different woman spoke now, her voice-over narrating the scene; her accent was later determined by authorities to be from Barcelona.
"The bomb was made buoyant by the attached scuba equipment. The revolutionaries took the device into the water and sunk it to where it descended below the surface. Then they delivered it to their target, over a kilometer away."
The five disappeared in the darkness off the water's edge, pushing the large floating plastic item attached to the scuba equipment between them.
The camera stayed on the shoreline, then the scene cut again. Now the gargantuan Independence
was in the center of the frame, illuminated by bright lights. After only a few seconds of calm, the explosion bloomed on the near side of the ship, the rolling flame ascended, and secondary and tertiary detonations erupted, some causing the camera operator, who must have been a very long distance from the blast, to flinch noticeably.
For the denouement of the video, the long-distance shot of the destruction of Lithuania's liquefied natural gas facility switched abruptly to a person in a ski mask sitting in front of a small table. Despite the concealment of her face, the exposed skin around her mouth and her slight build revealed her as a Caucasian female, likely a young woman.
Behind her, a white flag had been pinned to the wall. In the center of it was a circle, clearly representing planet earth, covered by a maze of pipelines. An oil well jutted out of the top of the circle, and a red drop-presumably representing blood-hung below it.
Copyright © 2016 by Mark Greaney. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.