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Bloomberg: Shell Contacted Kidnappers, Workers `Well,’ N.Z. Says (Update1)

By Emma O’Brien

July 9 (Bloomberg) — Royal Dutch Shell Plc has been in contact with the kidnappers of five oil workers in Nigeria, including two New Zealanders, and confirmed that they are alive, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said.

Shell has conveyed to the New Zealand government that it has “every reason to believe that the men are alive and well,” Clark told reporters in Wellington today, adding that the oil company was the main point of contact with the kidnappers.

Gunmen on July 4 abducted five expatriate workers from a rig operated by Lonestar Drilling Nigeria Ltd., working for Shell’s Nigerian venture in the Soku field. The New Zealanders, Brent Goddard and Bruce Klenner, were taken along with Australian Jason Lane, Venezuelan Andreas Gambra and George Saliba from Lebanon, Radio New Zealand said in a report on its Web site.

New Zealand’s ministry of foreign affairs and trade is in regular contact with the men’s families, Clark said.

More than 200 expatriates have been kidnapped since the start of last year by militants and other criminal groups in Nigeria’s main oil-producing region.

A 3-year-old British girl, Margaret Hill, who was abducted by armed gunmen in the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt on July 5 was released today, unharmed, the U.K. Foreign Office confirmed. The kidnappers had threatened to kill the girl unless her father, Briton Mike Hill, took her place, the British Broadcasting Corp. quoted her mother, Oluchi, as saying the day after the girl’s abduction.

Supply Threatened

Crude production in Nigeria is threatened by insecurity in the West African nation, Total SA, Europe’s third-largest oil company, said July 7.

Oil production, the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, fell to 2.15 million barrels a day in the first quarter from 2.34 million barrels in the same period of 2006, the central bank said. The drop was caused by the “continued restiveness in the Niger Delta area,” Total Chief Executive Officer Christophe de Margerie said.

Shell’s venture, the Shell Petroleum Development Co., pumps about half of Nigeria’s oil. Almost two-thirds of the company’s daily production has been halted as a result of leaks, community disputes and militant attacks. Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. holds 55 percent of the venture, Shell owns 30 percent, Total has 10 percent and Eni SpA owns 5 percent.

To contact the reporter on this story: Emma O’Brien in Wellington on [email protected]

Last Updated: July 9, 2007 02:09 EDT

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