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Reuters: Four Expat Hostages Released in Nigerian Oil Delta

Apr 04, 2007

ABUJA—Two Lebanese construction workers, a British oil worker and a Dutch security manager kidnapped in Nigeria’s oil-producing Niger Delta have been released, officials and industry sources said on Wednesday.

Kidnappings for ransom or to press for benefits from oil firms are common in the lawless delta, which accounts for all oil production from Nigeria, the world’s eighth-biggest exporter of crude.

After Wednesday’s releases, there are now no more foreign hostages being held in the Niger Delta.

The two Lebanese were working for Setraco, a Nigerian construction firm under Lebanese management. Gunmen seized them from a bridge construction site in Bayelsa State on Monday.

“They regained their freedom this morning. The government was able to secure their release without paying any ransom. The project will continue,” said a Bayelsa government spokesman.

The Briton was abducted on March 31 by gunmen in two speedboats during a dawn raid on the Bulford Dolphin oil drilling rig, 40 miles offshore.

“I can confirm that he has been released. He is in good health as far as we know. He is due to see a doctor and I believe he will be on his way to Lagos,” said a spokesman for the British High Commission in Abuja.

The Dutch security manager working for German building contractor Bilfinger & Berger was seized on March 23 after a three-hour gunfight when men in three speedboats stormed a construction yard in Port Harcourt, the delta’s main city.

Two security experts working for Western oil majors said the Dutchman had now been released. One source said the Briton and the Dutchman were freed at the same time but this could not be confirmed.

Community Disputes

Sources said gunmen from the same coastal communities were involved in the abductions of the Briton and the Dutchman, which would explain why they were released on the same morning. There was no apparent link with the release of the Lebanese.

Security sources said the Briton’s kidnappers had disputes with the operators of the Bulford 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.

The Bulford Dolphin 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.

Attacks on oil facilities and kidnappings of foreign workers have been a problem in the Niger Delta for years, but the violence has intensified since late 2005.

Oil production has been down by 500,000 barrels per day since February last year because of a series of raids on Royal Dutch Shell oilfields that month by the rebel Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.

The group has taken hostages to press its demands for greater local control of oil revenues, though all have now been released.

Numerous other “freelance” kidnappers have taken advantage of a breakdown in law and order to seize foreigners and extract hefty ransoms from companies or local governments.

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

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

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