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AP Worldstream: Nigeria militants launch wave of attacks, seize nine foreign oil workers

OSMOND CHIDI
Feb 19, 2006
Armed militants launched a wave of attacks across Nigeria's troubled southern delta region, blowing up oil installations and seizing nine foreigners in violence that cut crude exports in the West African nation by 20 percent. Royal Dutch Shell official Donald Boham said militants attacked the Forcados oil loading platform Saturday, forcing the company to shut down a facility that moves out 400,000 barrels of oil daily.
Shell also said in a statement it had evacuated its nearby shallow water EA field as a precautionary measure, shutting off another 115,000 barrels a day.
Nigeria is Africa's leading exporter, normally producing 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press, the militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for the attacks as well as a raid in which militants abducted three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino.
The group, which claims to be fighting for a greater local share of the country's oil wealth, said the attacks were carried out in retaliation for military helicopter assaults in the area this week. The militants threatened more violence would follow on “a grander scale.”
A day earlier, oil prices jumped more than US$1 and settled near US$60 a barrel on supply concerns sparked by the group's threat to wage war on foreign oil interests. Nigeria is the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports.
A similar wave of attacks and hostage takings in January cut exports by nearly 10 percent, or 221,000 barrels daily. About 106,000 of that lost output has yet to be restored because of a previous attack on a major pipeline supplying the Forcados terminal.
After Saturday's attack at Forcados, Boham said a fire at was quickly put out, but loading operations were suspended. “We can't load because there is some damage to the loading platform,” he said. There was no word on casualties.
Forcados serves as a berth for oil tankers and accounts for all oil the company loads in the western delta. Shell is the leading exporter in Nigeria, accounting for just under half of total exports.
The foreigners were seized before dawn by more than 40 militants who overpowered guards on a barge belonging to the U.S. company Wilbros, which was working on a contract to lay pipelines for Shell, a Wilbros official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Boham said the incident occurred in the Forcados estuary near the oil port city of Warri.
Militants identified each of the foreigners by name. Britain's Foreign Office said the British man kidnapped was John Hudspith of southern England. U.S. State Department spokesman Noel Clay confirmed three American oil workers were among those taken hostage.
“We're working with the Nigerian government and talking with them about this,” Clay said. “We call for their unconditional release.”
In Houston, Texas, Wilbros' vice president of investor relations, Michael Collier, confirmed the nationalities of those seized.
Associated Press writers Dulue Mbachu in Lagos and Chris Duncan in Houston, Texas contributed to this report.

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