Nigerian militants attack more oil installations

Militants holding nine foreign hostages in southern Nigeria said they attacked another oil facility today and blew up a military vessel in ongoing violence that has cut about 20% of crude production in Africa’s oil giant.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said they attacked a Shell-operated oil-pipeline switching station and a navy vessel in the oil-rich southern region. “Both were destroyed with explosives,” the group said.

The militants announced no casualties and said the Nigerian sailors had fled from the attackers.

A London-based Shell spokeswoman had no information on any violence against the company’s facilities today and said there was no announcement of further production cuts. Government officials weren’t immediately available for comment.

The West African nation is reeling from weekend attacks in which militants blasted oil and gas pipelines and sabotaged a key oil loading terminal belonging to Royal Dutch Shell, forcing the company to halt the flow of about 455,000 barrels a day – about one fifth of daily output in Africa’s top crude producer.

The militants claiming the attacks say they have kidnapped nine foreign oil workers and threatened to spread the violence further across the restive south, and said they would kill President Olusegun Obasanjo if he entered the region.

“We are going to continue with the destruction of oil facilities in Delta State while concluding arrangements for our wider attacks on the entire region,” the group said. “We are declaring a war on Obasanjo. We will attack and kill him should he venture into the Niger Delta for any reason.”

Shell Spokeswoman Caroline Wittgen said she had no information on any attacks, but said the company was working to ensure workers’ security and the hostages’ liberation.

We’re offering every assistance we can to secure the safe release of the hostages and necessary measures to ensure the safety of staff,” she said in London.

The military said it would do whatever necessary to ensure tankers remained safe in Nigerian waters.

“I don’t know their capabilities, but we’re not leaving anything to chance,” Maj. Said Hammed, spokesman of the military task force in the Niger Delta, said of militant forces. “The assurance has been given at the highest level of government that oil tankers are safe in Nigerian waters. That assurance remains.”

Violence and sabotage of oil operations have been common in the oil-rich Niger Delta for the past 15 years amid demands by the region’s impoverished communities for a greater share of the oil revenue flowing from their land.

The militants, who say they are fighting for the same cause and the freedom of imprisoned ethnic Ijaw leaders, launched a series of pre-dawn attacks on Saturday that shook the nation’s volatile oil industry.

In one assault in the swampy delta’s Forcados estuary, dozens of armed militants seized nine foreigners after storming a barge belonging to the Houston-based oil services company Willbros, which was laying pipeline for Shell.

The hostages include three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino, militants and Willbros officials said.

Responding to local rumours they planned to execute the hostages, militants said in an email they had not decided what to do with them.

Nigeria is Africa’s leading oil exporter and the United States’ fifth-largest supplier, usually exporting 2.5 million barrels daily.

Hostage takings are also a common occurrence in the volatile delta, but most are released unharmed. Last month, militants held four foreigners for 19 days before releasing them unscathed.

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