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Financial Times: UK oil worker killed in Nigerian navy battle with hostage takers

By Dino Mahtani,West Africa Correspondent: Published: November 23 2006 02:00 | Last updated: November 23 2006 02:00

A British hostage was killed and another expatriate oil worker seriously wounded yesterday during a gunfight between the Nigerian navy and militiamen who had kidnapped seven foreign oil workers.

A Nigerian security source said the gunfight took place when a naval patrol came across militants who had taken the workers from an Italian oil facility off the coast of Nigeria’s oil-producing Delta region.

Security sources said this was the first time an expatriate worker had been killed in Nigeria after being taken hostage.

Eni, an Italian multi-national operating in Nigeria, shut about 50,000 barrels a day of output from an oilfield as a result of the attack, an industry source said.

Industry sources said the attack had been carried out by an armed group that was probably acting on behalf of aggrieved communities up-set with the company’s community development programmes. Over the past few weeks, militants have targeted some of the company’s other facilities in Nigeria, forcing the closure of some additional output.

The Nigerian military has come under pressure from President Olusegun Obasanjo who has called on security forces to meet militant activity “force for force” after a wave of hostage-takings in recent months. Militant activity has risen this year, with severe attacks against Nigeria’s oil industry cutting output in the world’s eighth largest oil exporter by about a quarter.

In recent weeks, Nigerian security sources have said they would step up their efforts to protect Nigeria’s multinational oil industry, in which the government is a significant shareholder.

Industry sources said the security services had been using community informants to intercept attacks. Last week, the military repelled an attack against an oil facility belonging to Royal Dutch Shell, Nigeria’s largest oil producer.

But security sources said that the escalation in efforts by the government to control the waterways and offshore areas of the Niger Delta region could be a dangerous tactic, particularly if hostage-takings continued.

“This is a complex problem springing from the military’s constitutional duty. We have to stop criminal activity and protect national assets,” said the military source. “Tragedies like this underline the urgency of dealing with the Niger Delta problem.”

Security and industry sources expect violence and militant activity in the Delta to increase in the run-up to national elections in April.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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