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Niger Delta: Tension heightens as Shell sends workers home

Published: Sunday, 15 Feb 2009

Panic-gripped management of the Anglo-Dutch oil firm, Shell Petroleum Development Company, on Friday sent its workers in the restive Niger Delta home due to the worsening insecurity in the region.

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Our Correspondent

Leader of Niger Delta Vigilant

A source in the energy giant told Sunday Punch that the workers fled their offices in compliance with an impromptu order from the management.

It reportedly asked the workers to await further directives by Sunday (today).

Already, the management has tied the resumption of work on Monday to a favourable intelligence report at its disposal by Sunday.

It was gathered that the order to the workers operating at onshore locations of SPDC coincided with the evacuation of their counterparts at offshore fields, especially in the eastern operation in Rivers State.

The oil workers retreated to the cities from the offshore fields and oil platforms considered prone to attack by the Niger Delta warlords.

The panic measures were sequel to the February 14 deadline given to the workers of the oil majors to vacate the region by the Niger Delta Vigilante and Patriotic Force, led by Ateke Tom.

The group said it would launch what it described as ‘Operation Zero Exploration’ in the region as from Saturday (yesterday).

The operation is aimed at crippling exploration and exploitation of crude oil in the region.

The group said the safety of SPDC workers might not be guaranteed on the expiration of the ultimatum.

Although the NDVPF announced the suspension of the plan on Thursday, the management of SPDC went ahead to send its employees operating in the region home as a precautionary measure.

A top official of SPDC told our correspondent on Saturday, that ”Our (SPDC) offices in the Niger Delta were forced to close down at 3pm on Friday and the workers were directed to go home.

“We have earlier evacuated workers from some locations, especially in Bonny fields, Cawthorn Channels and other places we considered unsafe for our staff in the region.

”To be specific, the workers in the open fields and house boats on the open sea and waterways, serving some coastal flow stations and production platforms, especially those at the offshore and swamp locations were evacuated on Friday.

”In asking the workers to go home by 3pm on Friday, the management might have acted on an intelligence report that was not available to the workers. But the management claimed that there was no direct threat to SPDC from any of the militant groups.

”The action of the management must have been a precautionary measure to prevent untoward developments happening to the workers and equipment. Even the workers in the fields have been sending distress calls to the management to evacuate them ahead of the expiration of the ultimatum.

”Some workers, especially the contractors‘ personnel even refused to work since Thursday due to the level of the threat by the NDVPF in the media and no responsible management is expected to ignore it.

“The SPDC takes the safety of its staff and contractor personnel very seriously, and will do everything possible to ensure the safety of those working for it.”

The NDVPF had on Thursday vacated the order asking the oil workers to quit the region

In an e-mail to our correspondent, an NDVPF Spokesman, Tamunokuro Ebitari, said the group planned the attack in protest against the January 30 attack on some militants‘ camps in the region by the operatives of the Joint Task Force.

SPDC‘s Spokesman, Mr. Precious Okolobo, told our correspondent on the phone on Saturday that the workers were sent home as a preventive action, adding that the order affected only the workers in the eastern operation of the company in Rivers State.

He said SPDC‘s workers at other locations in the region closed normally on Friday, adding that the workers in Port Harcourt would be back at their duty posts on Monday.

He, however, added that he was not aware of the evacuation of workers from the offshore fields of the Anglo-Dutch oil firm in the region.

Okolobo added, ”The decision of the management (SPDC) to ask the workers in Port Harcourt to go home by 3pm on Friday was simply a precautionary measure. There was no direct threat to the company. The order affected only Port Harcourt as our workers closed at the normal time in other places.”

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