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Three British workers kidnapped in Nigeria

The Times
January 13, 2010

Tristan McConnell in Nairobi

Three British oil workers were kidnapped by gunmen yesterday in the oil-rich Niger Delta.

A Colombian contractor was also seized in the morning attack, in which a Nigerian security officer and driver were killed.

The men were working at the Shell-operated Afam gas and power plant east of Port Harcourt. They work for Netco Dietsmann, a venture between Nigeria’s state-owned National Engineering and Technical Company and the Dutch company Dietsmann.

A company spokeswoman named the Britons as John Bennet, Kevin Gray and Martin Phillips, and the Colombian as Fabien Sánchez.

No group has yet claimed responsibility but in recent years armed groups claiming to be fighting for a fairer share of Nigeria’s oil wealth have used kidnap to raise funds and awareness. A foreign office spokesman in Abuja said that the British Government was treating the kidnap “as a matter of great urgency”.

Despite its oil and gas revenue, estimated at about £60 billion a year, many of Nigeria’s 140million people remain in poverty.

Most kidnappings in the Niger Delta are resolved after a few days with ransoms paid by the multinational companies that operate in the oil fields.

Some however last much longer. In April last year British oil worker Robin Hughes was released by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) militant group after more than six months in captivity. Another British hostage, Matthew Maguire, was released two months later.

The two were among a group of 27 kidnapped aboard an oil ship moored at Port Harcourt in September 2008.

In the most shocking attack to date a three-year old British toddler, Margaret Hill, was seized by gunmen while on her school run through Port Harcourt in July 2007. She was released after three days.

Kidnappings have been less frequent in recent months following a government amnesty which ended in October that led to thousands of militants laying down their arms in exchange for cash payments and a promise that they would not be prosecuted.

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