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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Nigerian Gunmen Abduct 8 WorkersFrom Oil Platform

By CHIP CUMMINS
June 3, 2006; Page A5

Unidentified gunmen kidnapped eight foreign workers from an oil platform about 40 miles off Nigeria’s coast, raising fresh security challenges for the handful of international oil companies working in the region.

Pipeline sabotage, smuggling and militant attacks against oil installations have become commonplace onshore and in the swamps of the country’s oil-rich Niger Delta. But many oil-company executives have said they believe their installations offshore — miles from the restive coast — were more insulated from attack.

Foreign oil companies have poured billions of dollars into facilities along Nigeria’s coast and elsewhere along the West African coast in the Gulf of Guinea. Recent offshore production has helped Nigeria lift total output capacity to some 2.5 million barrels a day, making it one of the world’s biggest producers. But U.S. military officials have expressed concern that offshore platforms in the region are becoming increasingly vulnerable to piracy or terrorist attack.

Earlier this year, a militant group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta attacked a Royal Dutch Shell PLC field about nine miles offshore, kidnapping four foreign workers. The workers were eventually released unharmed, but Shell shut down production at the field.

The attacks early Friday morning move the potential danger zone for oil companies and their workers considerably farther out to sea. Nigerian and other West African navies have proved ineffective in combating Gulf of Guinea piracy and smuggling, and the U.S. Navy has stepped up its presence in the region.

The kidnapped workers, six Britons, one American and one Canadian, were aboard the drilling rig Bulford Dolphin when it was attacked, according to a statement by the rig’s operator, Norway’s Fred. Olsen Energy ASA.

The company has made contact with the abducted workers, it said. The kidnappers, meanwhile, have been in touch with local representatives of a Nigerian partner in the drilling venture about negotiating the hostages’ release, said Sheena Wallace, a spokeswoman for Fred. Olsen subsidiary Dolphin Drilling Ltd.

Dolphin Drilling operates the rig for Nigerian oil company Peak Petroleum. Ms. Wallace said the kidnappers attacked the platform, which had 84 people aboard, early Friday morning. She said drilling had temporarily been suspended.

Write to Chip Cummins at [email protected]

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