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Nigeria: Attack On Bonga – MEND Reveals How Its Men Carried Out Raid

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Nigeria: Attack On Bonga – MEND Reveals How Its Men Carried Out Raid

Vanguard (Lagos)

Emma Amaize, Kingsley Omonubi And Uduma Kalu

WHO attacked the 60 square- kilometre $3.6b Bonga Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel and deepwater sub-sea facility last week which provoked international outcry?

Was it the militant group, Movement for Emancipation of the Niger-Delta (MEND)? Or was the shut down carried out by internal sabotage led by a naval retired officer?

The poser was that while MEND revealed how their gallant men attacked the floating station, the Nigerian military high command said it was an internal sabotage.

MEND had told local and international media that its men attacked the vessel on Thursday, June 19, by sailing 220 kilometers of opensea without the men of the Joint Task Force (JTF) on the Niger-Delta hearing the sound of their speedboats and observing any strange movement.

The location of the FSPO with a current production of 225,000 barrels of oil per day and a target of raising the country’s crude oil production to some four million barrels per day by 2010 is said to have been planned to make it out-of-the-way and impregnable to militants.

The facility is located in the Oil Operating Licence (OPL) 212, approximately 120- kilometer (75 miles) offshore Nigeria, situated in water depths of more than 1,000 meters.

It was also widely speculated that the militants who allegedly carried out the attack had support from some soldiers, who probably turned their eyes the other way while the heavily armed militants zoomed past. MEND had gone ahead to claim responsibility of the attack

The alleged militant attack on the floating production storage and offloading vessel led to the shut-down of 225, 000 per day crude oil output and rise in world price of crude. An American, Capt Jack Stone who works for an oil services company was alleged to have been kidnapped but later released.

So far, the federal government has reacted by sending more troops to the Niger Delta. Shell has also resumed operations at the said station but under the watchful eyes of two naval frigates as guards.

But a new twist has entered into the story, bringing with it an argument on who actually carried out the attack.

However, authoritative sources told Saturday Vanguard that the attack and shut-in of the flow station were actually carried out from within the vessel, and not by MEND.

“It was not a militant action at all,” the sources revealed.

The sources debunked the MEND boast that it was the one that attacked the floating station, saying that the incident occurred when about 55 security personnel who are staff of a private security outfit operated by a retired senior military officer (Navy Captain, Course 11 intake) forcefully shut the floating station in protest of Shell’s maltreatment.

Their anger, the military source continued, was that for the past three months, in spite of having worked under severe and dangerous conditions to secure the multi-billion dollars investment, Shell refused to pay them their salaries.

The source went on to say that since the private security firm entered into contract with Shell, it was disheartening to see the oil giant reneging on the fulfillment of the contract, especially on payment of salaries.

“So for Shell to come out and deceive the world by claiming that militants were the ones that attacked Bonga floating station which is 122 nautical miles off shore, to cover their shortcoming is to say the least, unpatriotic. In fact, Bonga is so far offshore that no boat, even fast boats normally used by militants can survive, going and coming back alive without encountering Naval Patrol ships,” the sourced continued.

But the MEND commander in an exclusive interview with Saturday Vanguard maintained that his organisation launched the attack leading to the shut in. MEND, he said, had attacked the facility to prove that it has the capacity to attack anywhere in the Niger Delta to press for the release of its leader, Henry Okah as well as fight for the development of the Niger Delta region.

“Shell thinks that we are fools. The company sacked a lot of Niger-Deltans from their employment when we are asking for more jobs for our people under the guise of restructuring. But the truth is that they are taking their production off shore, where they think that the military will protect them, that is part of the reason we went there to tell them that no place is safe for them in the Niger-Delta except they realize that they have to give jobs to our people and provide us with development incentives. We are telling them that we know their game plan and that it will not work,” he said.

The commander saying that his group has “the map and chart of all the oil facilities in the Niger-Delta,” added that it also knows ” the topography of the area. It is our homeland, and we are used to the oceans and the terrain.”

He told Saturday Vanguard that some Nigerian soldiers came close to one of the MEND camps with eight gunboats on last Tuesday and equally sent a spy plane to its camp. MEND said it gave the soldiers some time to leave the place but they failed. The commander said he therefore went with some of his men to confront and chase the soldiers away.

Also, MEND in an e-mail, dated Wednesday, June 25, signed by Jomo Gbomo on the incident said, “Around 1900Hrs today, Tuesday, June 24, 2008, only 19 Hours away from a Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) unilateral cease-fire aimed at restoring peace, the Nigerian military blocked the channel leading into one of our major camps with eight heavily armed gun boats in preparation for what seemed like a dawn invasion.

“Our fighters headed towards the army position and fired warning shots to leave or be confronted. As our fighters approached the enemy in over fifty war boats, the eight gun boats turned and fled from the area thereby averting a clash and maintaining the on-going cease-fire. MEND reiterates its willingness to respect its unilateral cease-fire but will not hesitate to call it off at the slightest provocation or threat”, he warned.

The MEND commander went on to explain that he failed to blow up the station because of human pity on the lives of those on board the vessel. The group, he went on, is not interested in taking people’s lives.

“It is one of those things in life. My instructions were clear but I took pity when I remembered that human beings were inside. I have told you that we will cripple the oil facilities in the region if the Federal Government does not develop the Niger-Delta. Our aim is not to kill human being or even take them as hostages, and it is only circumstances that will push one to such an extreme thing. We had no challenge from the military and they cannot match us. And because we have made our point by coming to where they think we cannot get to, I decided to tell the other fighters that we should go. If not, we were armed with enough Rocket Propelled Grenades and other weapons to bring it down.”

MEND had stated that its detonation engineers would not spare the facility if it has cause to pay a visit to the facility again.

“To be candid, I left the place without blowing it up because of God and human being, not because of any protective measure or automatic shutdown of the facility in the event of any attack. We know everything about the FPSO before we went there. Nobody should delude himself”, he maintained.

Dismissing the proposed Niger Delta summit, the commander called for the release of henry Okah, its leader being held for alleged treasonable offences by the federal government. He also said that Nigerian military cannot match the group in the sea battle.

MEND dismissed the insinuation that the group was not capable of sustaining a fight with the military, hence it hurriedly announced a cease fire after the Bonga field attack, saying, “We made it clear that it was an unilateral ceasefire and this was because the Niger-Delta elders pleaded with us to do so and allow them to take up the issues once again with the Federal Government. They assured us that we have made our point and we should leave them to take our case to the government.

“We told them that we want the government to release Henry Okah if they want peace in the Niger-Delta and that summit is useless with Okah in chains. We know their reasons for their refusal to attend the summit, which is that the solutions to the Niger-Delta crisis had since been proffered and that what is needed is the implementation of the solutions and we share the same view”, the source stated

MEND reevaled to Saturday Vanguard that angry youth from the diferent groups of the Niger Delta are now enlisting for training with the organisation, saying that it would declare an oil war if any of its locations were attacked by soldiers.

“We said that any attack on a militant camp or community after Yar’Adua’s statement is tantamount to a declaration of war. What the government has failed to realize is that as soon as its offensive begins, all militants, cultist, pirates etc will drop their differences and unite. It is a divide and rule tactics to try and put militants under two categories. We have always prepared for such an eventuality and the armed forces will be disgraced”.

On MEND camps recently destroyed by the JTF, the commander said, they were transit camps and had a maximum of say 5-20 rifles and a few men.

“Yet they repelled the JTF who had an advantage of surprise. Size or the latest acquisition of weapons in guerrilla warfare does not mean superiority…. Our strategy is not to confront the army but to play a cat and mouse game and draw them into close hand to hand combat. They have played into our hands so far. The fighters are not afraid of being wiped out instead they are eagerly waiting for action.”

The man also touched on the foreigners in MEND camp, saying, “We have always had foreign instructors who are representatives of the weapons supplier or some are there as individuals willing to support a fight against injustice. They will not engage the enemy, but, will always be in the background with the commanders coordinating strategies.”

On, Okah’s freedom, he explained that the timing of his release is important, adding that if he is “released when the confrontation has reached an advanced stage, then there might be little his release can do but he surely has an influence to ask us to cease-fire.”

But the military source explained that the angry security workers who have families to feed felt that the only way to make Shell wake up to the realities on ground was for them to shut the floating station. So it was not a militant action at all. Even the American that was kidnapped was not really kidnapped.

“Mr. Stone who deals in boats and marine transport for staff and expatriates working on the floating station as well as other such flow stations, was just unlucky to be at Bonga at the time the security workers were venting their anger and was asked to stay put until they complete the shut-in. That was why he was let off after the shut-in.

“There was no destruction of equipment of any sort at the Bonga station and this is due to the fact that the shut-in was professionally done. No damage or death was recorded which would have been unusual if their was a shoot-out.”

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