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Reuters: Nigerian oil staff need more security to return

02 Apr 2006 15:39:43 GMT
Source: Reuters
By Tom Ashby
LAGOS, April 2 (Reuters) – More naval patrols in Nigeria's southern delta region have failed to persuade oil company Royal Dutch Shell to return to its abandoned oilfields as militants continue to clash sporadically with troops, oil industry and military officials said on Sunday.
About 550,000 barrels of oil per day, or 23 percent of Nigerian output, has been shut for six weeks since militants staged a series of attacks on oil platforms and pipelines in the vast wetlands region on Feb. 18.
The supply interruption has helped keep world oil prices near record highs above $65 per barrel amid persistent concerns over supply from other major exporters Iran and Iraq.
Brigadier-General Alfred Ilogho, who commands a joint military task force in the Niger Delta, told Reuters he has taken delivery of a number of new fast patrol boats and increased their presence in the creeks.
The extra hardware is part of a twin-pronged government strategy to calm tensions, which also includes engaging militants in talks, he told Reuters.
“We hope our increased patrols of the waterways will increase the confidence of multinationals to resume operations,” he said.
But militants fired on one such patrol in the area of Shell's abandoned Forcados oilfields last Thursday, illustrating the continued risks of sending oil workers back to the area before a truce is signed, oil company executives said.
“There were clashes in the area last week. I don't think Shell will want to send its people there,” said an executive, asking not to be named because he is not authorised to talk to the media.
SABOTAGE CAMPAIGN
The militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has waged a four-month campaign of sabotage and kidnapping against the oil industry in the world's eighth largest exporter, cutting supplies by up to a quarter at one point.
They kidnapped 13 foreign oil workers in January and February, but they released the last three captives on March 27, raising hopes that the crisis could be moving towards an end.
However, the militants have threatened to stage more attacks on oil installations until their demands — more local autonomy over the oil wealth, the release of two jailed leaders and compensation for pollution — are met.
The government has invited a large number of delta interest groups, including traditional rulers, officials, activists and “youth leaders” — a local term for militants — to a meeting in the capital Abuja on Wednesday, but many groups have already rejected the idea as a futile talking shop.
The delta in southern Nigeria and its offshore extension pumps all of Nigeria's normal oil output of 2.4 million barrels per day, but its inhabitants feel cheated of their wealth.
The majority of its 20 million inhabitants have seen few benefits from decades of oil extraction that has yielded billions of dollars in profits for the government and foreign oil companies.
Vast areas of the delta are not connected to the national power grid. There is no clean water in many places. There are few roads. Teachers and doctors are in short supply.
The environment has been wrecked by oil spills and the constant burning of gas associated with the extraction of oil.
Militants, often armed and funded with the proceeds of crude oil theft, roam the mangrove-lined waterways of the vast delta in speedboats.

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