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New York Times: Hostage Death Raises Stakes in Nigerian Oil Crisis

By REUTERS
Published: November 23, 2006
Filed at 8:54 a.m. ET

ABUJA (Reuters) – The death of a British hostage in Nigeria’s oil-producing south in a shootout between kidnappers and troops raises the stakes for oil workers but is unlikely to change much for the industry, security experts said on Thursday.

The Briton, abducted from an offshore facility with six other foreigners early on Wednesday, was killed when the kidnappers ran into a military patrol in the remote creeks of the Niger Delta.

It was unclear who shot him. Two other hostages were wounded, one seriously, in the firefight while the remaining four were released unharmed. All seven worked for Saipem, a unit of Italian oil giant Eni.

Abductions of oil workers are frequent in the lawless delta but hostages are normally released unharmed for a ransom.

The only other known hostage death occurred in August, also during a botched attempt by Nigerian troops to free the captive, a Nigerian employee of Royal Dutch Shell.

OPEC member Nigeria is Africa’s top oil exporter and the eighth biggest in the world, but its roughly 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) are pumped from the Niger Delta, where poverty and lawlessness fuel militancy and crime.

“In future, if we had people taken I would be talking to the government security forces to make sure that they don’t try and rescue them,” said an expert who coordinates security for one of the major Western oil companies operating in the delta.

“Oil workers are obviously going to be more concerned for themselves. But will this affect production or the way we do business? I would say probably not,” he said.

FREQUENT KIDNAPPINGS

Eni said the Italian hostage who was seriously wounded in Wednesday’s shootout would be flown home on Thursday to be treated at an Italian hospital. It said the man’s condition was improving although he remained “under close observation.”

The company said the body of the British hostage would be moved on Thursday from the creeks to Port Harcourt, the Niger Delta’s main city.

Kidnappings have been a problem in the delta for years but 2006 has been particularly bad, with dozens of foreigners taken.

Usually, after a few days or at most a few weeks in the remote mangrove creeks of the delta, the hostages are released unharmed after the payment of ransoms.

Abductions are just one aspect of violence that has plagued the Niger Delta for years.

Many villagers in the poor, impenetrable wetlands region resent the oil industry for generating huge revenues for the faraway government and foreign oil firms while they have no power, no roads, no clean water and few schools or clinics.

This state of affairs has spawned a generation of angry youths eager to take up arms to press demands for development, or more often to make money.

Kidnappings for ransom, theft of crude oil and thuggery sponsored by politicians are all commonplace.

Systemic corruption among government officials and security forces and a complete breakdown of law and order in a region almost the size of England have also contributed to the deteriorating security situation in the delta.

Nigeria has cut oil output by a fifth since February, when militants fighting for local control of the oil wealth staged a series of attacks on pipelines, platforms and export terminals.

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