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The Border Mail (Australia): Efforts to free Shell oil worker

6 July 2007

FOREIGN affairs officials say they are working with oil giant Shell to try to secure the release of an Australian kidnapped by armed militants in Nigeria.

The man, named in media reports as Jason Lane from Queensland, was taken hostage on Wednesday alongside four other foreign contractors, including two New Zealanders, who had been drilling an oil well in Nigeria’s volatile south.

Employed by a company called Lone Star Drilling, they were in the process of drilling a well for the Anglo-Dutch oil giant in the Soku region when they were seized.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said yesterday the Australian High Commission in Abuja, the capital, was “working closely with the company to secure the man’s release”.

The Australian Government was taking the matter “very seriously”, a department spokeswoman said.

She was unable to confirm the Australian’s identity or provide details about his health, but said the man’s next of kin had been informed.

Nigeria, one of the world’s largest oil producers, is notorious for kidnappings of foreign oil workers.

The Niger Delta has been at the centre of a confrontation between the Government, militants who claim to be fighting for a larger share of oil resources for locals, and armed gangs out to make ransom money.

In May, an Australian was among a group of foreign workers abducted by militant groups and subsequently released.

The department’s official travel advisory warns Australians to reconsider all travel to Nigeria — the second-highest threat level on the ranking system — and advises against all travel to the Niger Delta, and the south-east, central and northern parts of the country.

“There is a high threat of kidnapping in Nigeria,” it says.

The incident, which hasn’t been claimed, came after southern Nigeria’s most prominent armed group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, announced the end of a month-long suspension of attacks on oil installations, called to allow talks with the new Government.

About 200 foreigners, mostly oil workers, have been kidnapped in the region since the beginning of 2006.
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