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Oil industry in Nigeria attacked; 9 kidnapped

Associated Press
Published February 19, 2006

WARRI, Nigeria - Militants launched a wave of attacks across Nigeria's troubled delta region Saturday, blowing up oil installations and seizing nine foreigners, including three Americans. The violence cut the West African nation's crude oil exports by 20 percent.

A fire was quickly put out on a Royal Dutch Shell platform that loads the company's tankers in the western delta, but the Forcados terminal's normal operations could not continue, halting the flow of 400,000 barrels a day.

"We can't load because there is some damage to the loading platform," Shell official Donald Boham said.

Shell said it had also evacuated an oil platform off its Atlantic coast as a precautionary measure, shutting off an additional 115,000 barrels a day.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Nigeria is Africa's leading oil exporter and the United States' fifth-largest supplier, normally producing 2.5-million barrels a day.

On Friday, Shell shut down a facility pumping 37,800 barrels of crude daily after an unexplained blaze at a nearby oil well. And the firm has yet to restore 106,000 daily barrels lost when a major pipeline supplying the Forcados terminal was hit in a similar wave of attacks and hostage takings last month.

Oil prices jumped more than $1 and settled near $60 a barrel Friday on supply concerns sparked by a militant threat to wage war on foreign oil interests.

In an e-mail to the Associated Press Saturday, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for the attacks, including the raid in which militants abducted three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino.

The group, which claims to be fighting for a greater local share of the country's oil wealth, said the attacks were carried out in retaliation for assaults this week by military helicopters. The militants threatened more violence would follow on "a grander scale."

More than 40 militants overpowered military guards before dawn Saturday and seized the foreigners from a barge belonging to Houston-based oil services company Willbros, which was laying pipeline for Shell, a Willbros official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Militants identified each of the foreigners by name in their e-mail. Britain's Foreign Office said the kidnapped Briton was John Hudspith of southern England and did not offer further details.

In Houston, Willbros spokesman Michael Collier confirmed that nine employees had been taken.

"We have not had any communication with those involved. Right now, we're in the process of contacting the families. The well-being of our people is foremost and we're trying to keep this situation under control as best we can."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Noel Clay said: "We're working with the Nigerian government and talking with them about this. . . . We call for their unconditional release."

In other, apparently coordinated violence, militants blew up a major Shell crude oil pipeline.

The militants have accused foreign oil companies of providing their helicopters and air strips for military operations.

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:10:11]

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