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UpstreamOnline: Nigerian gunmen snatch four US workers

By Upstream staff
9 May 2007

Heavily armed gunmen kidnapped four US oil workers from a pipelay barge operating off the Nigerian coast this morning, the ninth attack on western oil interests in the region in as many days.

The attacks come in the wake of April’s general elections which were condemned by observers as fraudulent.

Some militants have stepped up attacks to make clear that they are unimpressed by the looming change in government, despite the election of a state governor from the delta as vice president.

Others may be taking advantage of a reduction in security after the elections to resume their criminal pursuits, analysts say.

“Armed men on two speed boats with rifles and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) boarded (the barge). Four American personnel were abducted,” a security source told Reuters, asking not to be named.

No group has claimed responsibility for the latest attack.

The barge, operated by US contractor Global Industries, was laying pipelines for Chevron at its Okan oilfield.

Global has two pipelay barges operating in west African waters, the Cheyenne and the Comanche, according to its website. It is not yet known which vessel was raided.

A Chevron spokesman confirmed the abduction and said oil exports were not directly affected. The company ships about 160,000 barrels per day from the nearby Escravos terminal.

Yesterday rebels blew up three oil pipelines in the delta, forcing Italian producer Eni to halt output of 150,000 bpd feeding its Brass export terminal, a source at Eni said.

A tanker berthed at the terminal this morning to load crude oil kept in storage, but it was unclear if the pipelines could be repaired in time for the next loading due on Saturday.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) said it bombed the pipelines to embarrass President Olusegun Obasanjo in his last days in office.

Mend, whose 18-month campaign of attacks has forced the closure of almost a third of Nigeria’s oil capacity, threatened to launch more before Obasanjo steps down for president-elect Umaru Yar’Adua on 29 May.

“We promised to send Obasanjo off in shame and that is what is happening,” Mend spokesman Jomo Gbomo told Reuters.

Yar’Adua picked Goodluck Jonathan, the governor of Bayelsa State in the delta, as his running mate in an bid to ease tensions in the region. But Mend has dismissed the overture.

“Jonathan’s selection as vice-president of Nigeria is of no consequence to us unless it is accompanied by a fulfilment of all conditions we have previously given,” Gbomo said last week.

Mend said it is fighting for local control over the delta’s oil wealth but the majority of kidnappings are carried out by criminal gangs seeking cash.

Mend has told oil workers to leave the region and vowed to bring Nigerian exports to a complete halt to press its case for more autonomy from the central government.

It also wants the release of two jailed leaders from the delta and $1.5 billion compensation to villages for decades of oil spills.

About 100 foreigners have been abducted this year but most were released after their employers illegally paid ransoms.

Three South Koreans and eight Filipinos were freed yesterday after being held captive for five days. The abduction of the US oil workers takes the total number of foreigners now in captivity to 13.

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