All 7 foreign hostages freed in Nigerian oil delta
Seven foreign oil workers who were being held hostage in Nigeria’s southern Niger Delta have been released and are in good health, police said on Saturday.
The men are four Britons, one Romanian, one Malaysian and an Indonesian. They were kidnapped on October 3 in an unprecedented raid on a residential compound for expatriate contractors working for U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil.
“All seven have been released. They are all in good health,” said Suur Chafa, deputy superintendent of police in Akwa Ibom state, where the men were kidnapped.
“They have already been taken to Port Harcourt where the state security services will release them to their various companies,” he said. Port Harcourt, located in neighboring Rivers state, is the main city in the Niger Delta.
The employer of three of the men, Sparrows Offshore Services Limited, said their employees had spoken to their wives by telephone, and would undergo routine medical checks before flying to Britain.
“We have spoken to the men and they are in good spirits,” Chief Operating Officer Malcolm Wilson said in a statement.
British Foreign Office Minister David Triesman welcomed the hostages’ release. “I am pleased at the successful outcome to this kidnap and would like to express our thanks to the Nigerian authorities for all their help,” he said in a statement.
The Niger Delta, a vast wetlands region home to Africa’s biggest oil industry, has been plagued by attacks on oil facilities and abductions of oil workers this year.
A fifth of Nigeria’s production capacity has been shut down since February due to militant attacks.
Chafa did not have any information on the terms of the seven men’s release, while Sparrows said it “will not be discussing any of the communications which passed between government officials and the group which took our men.”
Diplomatic and oil industry sources said the kidnappers had demanded a ransom and negotiations took place between them, the local authorities and the men’s employers, four contractor companies based in Britain and the United States.
Abductions for ransom are common in the Niger Delta and local rights activists say companies usually pay up, fuelling the cycle. Companies deny this.
The seven men were seized from a bar inside the Eseakpan compound in Eket, Akwa Ibom, by about 18 gunmen who stormed in, killing two Nigerian security guards.
Security experts working for oil companies in the delta said it was the first time kidnappers had taken expatriates from within a residential compound. Such facilities are usually under tight security due to a history of abductions in the delta.
The experts also said it was worrying this kind of trouble had spread to Akwa Ibom, which had been relatively quiet all year while militants staged a wave of attacks and kidnappings in three oil producing states further west.
Violence in the Niger Delta is rooted in poverty, corruption and lawlessness. Many residents of the impoverished region resent the multibillion-dollar oil industry which has damaged their environment, but brought them few benefits.
However, the violence has taken on a momentum of its own. Turf wars over control of a lucrative trade in stolen crude, abductions for ransom and thuggery fomented for political ends are all part of the equation.