By Ani Akpan
CALABAR, Nigeria, Jan 7 (Reuters) – Armed men attacked an oil platform belonging to U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil (XOM.N) off Nigeria early on Wednesday, the latest sign that criminal gangs are extending their reach in Africa’s top oil industry.
Gunmen in a flat-bottomed vessel raided the facility, which lies some two hours by boat off the coast of the southern Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom, shortly after midnight. They also attacked a nearby barge and an oil services vessel.
“They shot into the air and water and ordered everyone on the platform into one room and threatened to kill us,” a witness told Reuters, adding the raid had lasted two hours.
A private security contractor said the gunmen had stolen phones, valuables and money. They were initially thought to have taken three hostages, but all the occupants of the three locations had since been accounted for, the contractor said.
He said there was no impact on production.
Mobil officials confirmed the incident but gave no details.
Insecurity in Nigeria’s Niger Delta has focused on the three main oil-producing states of Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa, but kidnappings and robberies appear to be on the increase in Akwa Ibom, further east towards Cameroon.
It is the second time in just over a month that Exxon’s local unit Mobil Producing Nigeria (MPN) has been targeted.
Gunmen attacked an MPN convoy in early December in Akwa Ibom as it travelled towards the Qua Iboe oil terminal, killing one soldier in what appeared to have been a failed kidnap attempt.
Militants who say they are fighting for a fairer share of the oil wealth in the Niger Delta launched a campaign of sabotage and kidnappings three years ago which have cut Nigeria’s oil production by around a fifth.
Criminal gangs have taken advantage of the unrest, seizing prominent Nigerians and expatriate workers for ransom in the creeks of the delta, or hijacking vessels at sea.
Offshore oil facilities have generally been considered beyond the reach of all but the most organised militant gangs and therefore relatively secure, but attacks in deep water appear to be on the increase.
A vessel belonging to French oil services firm Bourbon (GPBN.PA) was hijacked with nine crew members on Sunday but all have been released unharmed, the company said on Wednesday.
Two Russians working for aluminium giant RUSAL were seized from their housing compound in the port town of Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom more than two weeks ago. They are still being held.
That attack came hours after two oil services vessels were attacked near crude oil facilities off Akwa Ibom operated by Canada’s Addax Petroleum (AXC.TO) ACX.L. A Filipino captain on one of the vessels was killed, one security source said. (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: africa.reuters.com/ ) (Additional reporting and writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
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