Nigeria steps up efforts to release foreign oil workers

Nigeria steps up efforts to release foreign oil workers

Sunday, August 6th 2006

Nigerian security agents have stepped up efforts to secure the release of four foreign oil and gas workers who were taken prisoner this week in the restive Niger Delta.

A German oil worker was kidnapped on Thursday in Port Harcourt while three Filipinos working on a multi-billion-dollar liquefied gas project were abducted Friday at nearby Bonny Island in Rivers State.

A leading separatist group involved in previous kidnappings denied involvement Saturday.

“We have launched a massive man-hunt for the captors and their victims with a view to effecting their release,” state police spokeswoman Barasua Ireju told AFP.

She said security forces were hopeful the men would be released soon, declining to give details of the operation.

Unknown gunmen struck near the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) plant in southern Nigeria on Friday and kidnapped three Filipino men employed by Baker Overseas Technology Services, a contractor of the Nigerian firm.

Their whereabouts and the identities of their kidnappers were still unknown Saturday.

NLNG said the abduction took place at 6:45 am when five gunmen flagged down the truck in which the three were travelling then fled with them by boat.

“There were no casualties, although there was sporadic shooting from the gunmen,” it said.

NLNG added that a local leader, King Edward Asimini William Dappa Pepple, had contacted state governor Peter Odili to discuss the incident.

In Manila the foreign ministry said its embassy in Nigeria “has dispatched a consular team … to coordinate with the management of Baker Overseas Technology Services and also the Nigerian authorities on ways to seek the release of the three Filipino workers.”

The contractor had “put in place a mechanism to contact the group that took the three … and other arrangements to ensure that they are released safely,” government spokesman Gilbert Asuque said on television.

The kidnapping was the third of Filipinos this year. All the victims of the previous abductions in February and June were freed unharmed followng negotiations between the abductors and their respective employers.

“It will be the employer that will deal with this problem as in the past two abduction cases,” Asuque said.

He said the families of the three workers, whom he would not name, would be sheltered temporarily at government facilities where they would undergo counselling.

There was no news either of the German oil worker who was abducted Thursday along with his Nigerian driver in Port Harcourt, operational centre of the Niger Delta region where several firms are based.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said it was not involved in either kidnapping.

In an e-mail statement to AFP a MEND spokesman said the German, an employee of oil service firm Bilfinger and Berger, “was taken by a band that usually involves in armed robberies in Port Harcourt.”

“I’m sure he will be released shortly after a small ransom,” the spokesman said.

Also Thursday, five Nigerian oil workers were killed by unidentified gunmen in the Egbema area of Rivers State, police and industry sources said Saturday.

The men, contracted to Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell, were ambushed on their way to work, an oil company executive who requested anonymity told AFP, adding that no group had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Since January, attacks on oil facilities and staff by militants have risen in the region, source of Nigeria’s multi-billion-dollar oil and gas wealth.

The attacks were launched to press demands by local communities for a larger share in oil revenues and compensation for the destruction of the region as a result of oil exploration.

Some groups are seeking autonomy or independence for the Niger Delta.

More than 30 expatriate oil workers have been kidnapped in the past seven months but were released after spending days or sometimes weeks in captivity.

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest producer, accounting for a daily output of 2.6 million barrels, but unrest has cut a quarter of that figure in recent months. –AFP

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