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The New York Times: Six Foreign Oil Workers Kidnapped Off Nigeria

LAGOS (Reuters) – Armed militants killed a Nigerian and kidnapped six foreign oil workers in an attack on an oil industry vessel off Nigeria’s coast on Tuesday, security sources and the Italian government said.

Italy’s Foreign Ministry said four of the hostages were Italians. Security sources said one of the others kidnapped was believed to be American, while the nationality of the sixth person could not be immediately established.

“The militants shot one navy personnel and compelled the crew to throw a rope down to give them access by using dynamite,” one security source said.

Industry sources said the vessel, called Oloibiri after Nigeria’s first oil well, is operated by U.S. energy giant Chevron.

The overnight attack forced Chevron to shut down output at a small offshore oilfield.

“We have shut down 15,000 barrels per day from the Funiwa oilfield,” a company spokesman said in London.

Nigeria’s oil output has been reduced by 500,000 barrels per day, or a fifth of production capacity, since a series of raids on Royal Dutch Shell oilfields in February last year forced their closure.

In a separate incident, unidentified gunmen abducted the mother of Rivers state governor-elect Celestine Omeiha from her village near Africa’s oil heartland of Port Harcourt.

“We have not yet established contact with the kidnappers so we don’t know the reason why they took her,” Rivers state police commissioner Felix Ogbaudu told Reuters.

The abduction is apparently a fall-out from the April 14 state elections — which monitors said were marred by fraud — because Niger Delta militants rarely kidnap Nigerians.

FREELANCE KIDNAPPERS

In the Niger delta, an increasing number of armed groups demanding jobs, benefits or control of oil revenues have attacked industry facilities, kidnapped expatriate staff and fought with security forces.

But the lines between militancy and crime are blurred in the delta, a vast wetlands in southern Nigeria that accounts for all oil production from the world’s eighth biggest exporter.

Some armed groups have taken hostages to press political demands but numerous “freelance” kidnappers have seized foreigners to extract cash from their companies or from government.

Gunmen kidnapped two Turkish engineers from their car in Port Harcourt on April 7. The men were working on a project for Merpa, a contractor to Italian oil company Agip.

Most hostages are released unharmed after a few days although some have been kept in captivity for a few months and two have been killed in failed attempts by troops to free them.

Thousands of foreign workers and their relatives have fled the Niger Delta since the start of a wave of attacks on oil facilities and kidnappings of foreigners in late 2005.

The violence in the delta is fed by poverty and frustration at the lack of benefits for local people from an industry that has polluted their lands, air and water for five decades.

Published: May 1, 2007
Filed at 8:18 a.m. ET

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