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Houston Chronicle: Nigerian Militants Seize 9 Oil Workers

Feb. 18, 2006, 10:48AM
By OSMOND CHIDI Associated Press Writer
© 2006 The Associated Press
WARRI, Nigeria — Militants launched a wave of attacks across Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta Saturday, blowing up oil installations and seizing nine foreign oil workers, including three Americans, officials said. A Royal Dutch Shell official said the company was forced to shut down a facility that moves 400,000 barrels of oil a day _ 16 percent of the West Africa nation's output.
About 40 militants overpowered military guards and seized the foreigners before dawn from a barge belonging to Willbros, a Houston-based oil services firm that was laying pipeline for Royal Dutch Shell, a Willbros official said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The militants provided the names of the kidnapped workers _ three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino _ in an e-mail Saturday to The Associated Press.
State Department spokesman Noel Clay said he had no information about the workers, including their identities. The British Foreign Office identified the kidnapped Briton as John Hudspith, of southern England. Officials of the other hostages' home countries either could not immediately be reached or did not provide confirmation.
Shell official Donald Boham said militants attacked the Forcados oil loading platform in the western delta, which moves out 400,000 barrels of oil daily. Nigeria normally produces 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said in the e-mail that the attacks were a response to military helicopter assaults this week on ethnic minority communities in the region. The militants threatened more attacks would follow on “a grander scale.”
Oil prices Friday jumped more than $1 and settled near $60 a barrel on supply concerns sparked by the militant group's threat to wage war on foreign oil interests.
In apparently coordinated violence, militants attacked a tanker berth at Shell's Forcados export terminal and blew up a major Shell crude oil pipeline near a facility by the western delta's Chanomi Creek, Boham said. The militants said that they also damaged equipment linking the pipeline to several smaller lines.
Militants also claimed they had destroyed a state-run pipeline feeding natural gas from the delta's Escravos plant to the country's commercial capital, Lagos. That attack could not be independently confirmed.
The military said its helicopters on Wednesday and Friday targeted barges used by criminal gangs to steal crude oil from pipelines for sale, a thriving illegal trade that sometimes diverts up to 10 percent of the region's daily exports.
Nigeria produces about 2.5 million barrels a day.
The militants say they are fighting for more autonomy, a greater share of oil wealth and compensation for environmental degradation for the impoverished region's estimated 8 million Ijaw people. The area's largest tribe accuses the government and oil companies of cheating it of wealth produced on its land.
The group said the helicopter attacks this week were on minority communities and that militants would now target all helicopters in the delta, including civilian aircraft. The group has accused foreign oil companies of providing their helicopters and air strips for military operations.
The group has claimed responsibility for attacking two pipelines and abducting four foreign oil workers, including an American, who were released last month after 19 days in captivity.
The militants Saturday reiterated warnings for foreign oil workers to leave the Niger Delta.
“Expatriates must realize that they have been caught up in a war, and the Nigerian government can do nothing to guarantee the security of anyone,” the group said. “They are warned again to leave while the doors are still open.”
On Friday, Shell shut down an oil facility pumping 37,800 barrels of crude daily in Nigeria's southern oil-rich delta, following an unexplained blaze at a nearby oil well.
Associated Press writer Dulue Mbachu in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

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