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Reuters: Nigerian oil unions may leave Delta region

By Estelle Shirbon

Abuja – Nigeria’s oil workers’ unions may pull their members from the Niger Delta over safety fears following a spate of abductions by militants and a military crackdown, the head of one of the unions said on Wednesday.

The two oil unions have called an emergency meeting after a bloody shoot-out on Sunday between troops and militants during a botched attempt to free a Nigerian hostage in the delta. The hostage, an employee of Royal Dutch Shell, was killed in the gunfight.

“We are afraid for the safety of our members and anyone working in the Niger Delta. We feel the government is not doing enough,” said Peter Esele, president of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN).

A series of attacks on installations in the western delta in February forced Shell to evacuate workers from oilfields producing about 500 000 barrels per day, almost a quarter of Nigerian output.

The disruptions in the world’s eighth largest oil exporter have helped drive prices to record levels above $70 a barrel. Prices rose briefly on news the unions would call the meeting.

Esele said the decision-making councils of PENGASSAN and its ally, the blue-collar National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), were scheduled to vote on August 30 on whether to call on their members to leave the Niger Delta.

He said the unions had the power to organise an evacuation of oil workers from the delta, although there have been few examples in the past of disruptions to oil output because of union actions, including strikes.

Western oil companies, which control the Nigerian oil industry, have already imposed strict travel restrictions on personnel after at least 17 oil workers, mostly foreigners, were taken hostage this month. Ten have now been released.

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