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UpstreamOnline: Relief after release of EA captives

BARRY MORGAN, Nairobi

Seven workers kidnapped on Sunday from support vessels working near Shell’s Amatu facility near the EA field off Bayelsa state in Nigeria have been freed.

The hostages citizens of the US, Russia and Croatia were working for sub-contractors Hydrodive and Interoil. They were handed over unharmed to Bayelsa State Governor Timipre Sylva-Sam and senior Shell officials.

A total of 30 heavily armed men from a faction of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) engaged military guards from the Joint Task Force (JTF) for three hours at Ekeremor before the abductions took place, according to local reports.

The attackers arrived in speedboats before disappearing with their hostages into the creeks.

The local host community at Dodo in Ekeremor disowned the attack, stating that they had good relations with Shell.

A communique issued by the Mend faction led by arms dealer Henry Okah, also known as Gbomo Jomo in statements to the media, claimed responsibility and appeared to blame the Angolan government for the attack, arguing that it had overstepped the mark by continuing to hold Okah in a Luanda jail on smuggling charges.

“By holding in criminal detention a key stakeholder in the Niger Delta struggle, the government of Angola has crossed a line that they may never be able to go back on, for in due course our campaigns will be strategically focussed on Angolan concerns in Nigeria. “We are building a list of these at the moment.”

The communique, published by local newspaper Vanguard, continued: “Despite the fact that no credible evidence of wrongdoing has been brought against Henry Okah, and in spite of the fact that the presiding judge has absolved him of any wrong doing in view of a total lack of evidence against him, our son, brother and friend is being kept in the gallows of the Angolan state without recourse to the rule of law.”

Back at EA, the 115,000 barrels per day pumped through the Sea Eagle floating, production storage and offloading vessel has been shut down since February. The supermajor has since evacuated all staff once again.

There have been suggestions that Abuja is leaning on the Angolan authorities not to release Okah as it provides a useful bargaining chip when negotiating with selected militant groups at home.

Negotiations between the Okah faction and the Federal Government broke down and this attack was the result, according to military sources briefing local media.

The JTF admitted that Mend had warned of an impending attack on EA but had not said when it would occur.

Meanwhile, hostage taking of Nigerians continued unabated in the Niger Delta this week with the son of an oil production superintendent employed by Total abducted for ransom in Port Harcourt.
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25 October 2007 23:01 GMT  | last updated: 26 October 2007 03:47 GMT

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