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Reuters: Three Filipino gas workers kidnapped in Nigeria

04 Aug 2006 12:30:08 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Austin Ekeinde

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Aug 4 (Reuters) – Three Filipinos working for an American-owned oil service company were kidnapped by unidentified gunmen on Friday on their way to work at a natural gas plant in southern Nigeria, police said.

The kidnapping in the Bonny area of the Niger Delta follows the abduction of a German oil worker from the nearby city of Port Harcourt on Thursday, and comes amid a bloody insurgency by militants fighting for control of the region’s oil wealth.

“A group of gunmen intercepted their car, shot their tyre, fired into the air and took three Filipinos away in a speedboat,” a police spokeswoman said.

Another worker ran away during the ambush, successfully avoiding the kidnappers’ bullets, an industry source said.

The three Filipinos work for Overseas Technical Service, a UK subsidiary of U.S.-based Michael Baker Corp. , at the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas plant on Bonny Island.

“We have put mechanisms in place to secure the release of our people and we are waiting to hear from the kidnappers on their demands,” said Richmond Leeb, general manager of Overseas Technical Service in Nigeria.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which is waging a campaign of kidnapping and sabotage against the world’s eighth largest oil exporter, said it was not behind the abductions.

“No insult intended, but we have little value for Filipino hostages,” MEND said in an email.

MEND, which demands local control over the delta’s oil resources, also denied involvement in the German’s abduction.

“State government officials have been using hostages to make extra cash. Some encourage small bands to take hostages so they can make money out of subsequent negotiations,” the group said.

LAWLESS DELTA

The Niger Delta is a vast wetlands region almost the size of England which is home to all Nigeria’s oil and gas. Most of its people live in poverty and much of the money meant for local development is stolen by elected officials.

Well-armed criminal groups, some involved in large-scale theft of crude oil from pipelines, regularly attack oil and gas installations and workers to extort money or get other concessions from companies.

Hostages are usually released unharmed after a few days when a ransom has been paid, which analysts say fuels the violence.

A series of attacks by MEND in February forced Royal Dutch Shell to withdraw from the western side of the delta, cutting the OPEC nation’s oil exports by a quarter.

MEND has threatened to resume its attacks this month after a three-month lull.

The Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas complex in Bonny is one of the world’s largest such plants, exporting 18 million tonnes of frozen, pressurised gas in tankers to power stations in Europe and the United States.

It is owned by state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation with 49 percent, Royal Dutch Shell with 25.6 percent, Total with 15 percent and ENI with 10.4 percent.

“Operations are going on as normal,” a spokeswoman for the plant said.

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