Wednesday October 4, 2006
By Tom Ashby
LAGOS – Suspected militants invaded a residential compound for foreign oil workers in Nigeria today, killing two guards and kidnapping at least five expatriates, oil industry sources said.
The workers — including three Britons and two Malaysians — were taken from the compound in Eket, close to the operational base of ExxonMobil, which exports about 800,000 barrels a day from Africa’s top oil producer.
The two security guards killed in the raid were believed to be Nigerians, the sources added.
“The incident took place at Eseakpan residential area for service companies in Eket. Two civilian guards were killed. Three British and two Malaysians were among those kidnapped,” one oil industry source said.
A spokeswoman for ExxonMobil said she had no information about the attack. Earlier reports had indicated that between seven and 11 expatriates had been abducted.
Yesterday, about 25 Nigerian staff of a Royal Dutch Shell contractor were abducted and at least 10 soldiers were believed to have been killed in a militant raid on a convoy of boats supplying oilfields in a different part of the delta.
About 70 gunmen in speed boats attacked the barges carrying fuel and other supplies to Shell facilities in the remote Cawthorne Channel in Rivers state in the Niger Delta.
Industry sources said there were two other raids, possibly by the same group, on oil industry boats in the same area, also yesterday, in which one more soldier was killed and several rifles were seized.
The series of attacks ended a period of relative quiet in the Niger Delta, which accounts for all oil output from the world’s eighth biggest exporter. One sixth of Nigeria’s production capacity has been shut down since February following a wave of militant attacks on oil facilities that month.
The militant group behind February’s attacks, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, said it was not involved in yesterday’s raids. However, in a statement today, it said it had moved fighters into Rivers state to defend communities from reprisal attacks by the military.
“We will not stand with folded arms while the Nigerian military, true to habit, inflicts retaliatory punishment on innocent civilians,” the group said in an email statement.
“These fighters will remain in the vicinity of Rivers state, until the perceived threat to Ijaw communities in Rivers state ceases to exist,” it added, in reference to the Ijaw tribe which is the largest ethnic group in the delta.
Supply disruptions from Opec member Nigeria have contributed to several spikes in world oil prices this year.
Yesterday’s attacks did not affect production as they occurred on a river away from any facilities, company sources said.
The Niger Delta was relatively quiet in September after a series of kidnappings for ransom in August. A total of 18 oil workers were abducted that month in eight separate incidents. One of the hostages was shot dead by troops during a botched attempt to free him, while all the others have been freed.
Violence in the delta is rooted in poverty, corruption and lawlessness. Most inhabitants of the wetlands region, which is almost the size of England, have seen few benefits from five decades of oil extraction that has damaged their environment.
Resentment towards the oil industry breeds militancy, but other factors such as the struggle for control of a lucrative oil smuggling business and the lure of ransoms also lie behind the violence.