Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image Gunmen snatch oil worker en route to work

May 14, 2007 PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria (AP) — Six gunmen wearing military fatigues seized a Nigerian staff member of the Italian oil company Agip on Monday in Nigeria’s southern petroleum region, police said.

The assailants grabbed the human resources manager for Agip, a subsidiary of Italian oil giant Eni SpA, as he drove to work, said Rivers state police spokeswoman Irejua Barasua.

Agip had no immediate official comment.

The incident is the latest in a string of bombings and kidnappings against the petroleum industry across the volatile Niger Delta region where the crude is pumped in Africa’s oil giant.

Nearly 100 foreigners have been seized since the beginning of the year. Kidnapping of Nigerian staff is less common.

Hostages are usually released unharmed after the payment of a ransom. But one Nigerian died in an August gunfight between his captors and a Nigerian military patrol, sparking a three-day strike by Nigerian oil unions over safety fears.

A militant bombing on a major pipeline to an export terminal last week forced Agip to trim 98,000 barrels of oil production a day.

Beginning in December 2005, a series of militant attacks have shut down over a quarter of oil production in Africa’s largest oil producer, helping send oil prices near record highs.

Militants say they are fighting for the freedom of two leaders imprisoned on treason and corruption charges and a greater share of oil revenues for their impoverished region.

On Tuesday, hundreds of youths blockaded the regional headquarters of Chevron Corp., protesting joblessness among their ethnic kinsmen, the Itsekiri.

Competing Nigerian communities often quarrel over employment, development projects and other benefits associated with oil production.

Oil markets are especially sensitive to unrest in Nigeria, whose light, sweet crude is cheap and easy to refine.

The country is also valued for its easy proximity to European and American markets. It is the fifth-largest supplier of crude to the United States.

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