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The Washington Post: British oil worker abducted off Nigeria

By Tom Ashby
Saturday, March 31, 2007; 10:05 AM

LAGOS (Reuters) – Gunmen in two speedboats abducted a British oil worker in a pre-dawn raid on a drilling rig 40 miles off the coast of Nigeria on Saturday, officials and industry sources said.

The gunmen first targeted a support vessel moored to the Bulford Dolphin rig, overpowered the crew, then climbed on to the rig and seized the Briton, a security expert working for a Western oil major said.

The Foreign Office in London confirmed the abduction.

“We can confirm there was an incident in the early hours of this morning in which a British national was taken hostage,” a spokeswoman said. “We are in touch with the Nigerian authorities to try to secure a swift and peaceful resolution.”

The security expert said the kidnappers came from a coastal community in the Niger Delta that has had disputes with the operators of the rig in the past.

Such disputes are common in the delta, where villagers neglected by corrupt governments expect oil companies to provide jobs and basic public services such as electricity, roads or clean water.

Kidnappings of foreign workers for ransom or to press political demands are common in the lawless delta, which accounts for all of Nigeria’s roughly 2.5 million barrels per day (bpd) in crude oil production.

Six Britons, one American and a Canadian were kidnapped from Bulford Dolphin on June 2 last year in another night raid by gunmen in speedboats. They were released two days later.

The rig is owned by the Norwegian oilfield services group Fred Olsen Energy ASA and leased to Nigerian firm Peak Petroleum, which operates it in partnership with Equator Exploration.

The latest attack did not affect production as the facility is an exploration rig that will not produce crude for years.

Nigeria is the world’s eighth biggest exporter of crude oil but the Niger Delta has been hit by a wave of abductions and attacks on oil facilities since late 2005.

Oil production has been down by 500,000 bpd since February last year because of a series of raids on Royal Dutch Shell oilfields that month by a rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). A MEND spokesman said the group was not involved in the latest abduction.

MEND has taken hostages to press its demands for greater local control of oil revenues, but numerous other “freelance” kidnappers have seized foreigners to extract hefty ransoms from companies or local authorities.

Violence in the delta is rooted in poverty and frustration at the lack of benefits for local communities from five decades of oil extraction that has polluted the air and water.

Millions of villagers with no access to clean water, electricity or roads resent the multi-billion dollar oil industry and its web of pipelines criss-crossing their lands.

(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in London)

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