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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

20 Nigerian Shell contractors missing after attack

PORT HARCOURT, Nigeria, Oct 3 (Reuters) - About 20 Nigerians working for a contractor to Royal Dutch Shell were abducted during a Monday attack on a convoy of boats supplying oilfields, Shell sources said on Tuesday.

At least five soldiers protecting the convoy were killed when about 70 gunmen in speed boats attacked the barges carrying fuel and other supplies to Shell facilities in the remote Cawthorne Channel in the Rivers state of the Niger Delta.

"There is still confusion over what has happened. About 20 Nigerian oil workers who work for a Shell contractor were abducted. As of now they are still missing," said one Shell source in the Rivers state capital, Port Harcourt.

Monday's attack ended a period of relative quiet in the Niger Delta, which accounts for all oil output from the world's eighth-biggest exporter. A sixth of Nigeria's production capacity has been shut down since February following a wave of militant attacks on oil facilities that month.

The supply disruption from OPEC member Nigeria has contributed to several spikes in world oil prices.

Monday's attack did not affect production as it occurred in a river far from any facilities, company sources said. Shell already has 495,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day shut down at fields it operates in Africa's top oil producer, mostly because of militant attacks.

There were conflicting statements about who might have been behind the attack.

A self-styled Joint Revolutionary Council, which says it represents three militant groups, claimed responsibility and demanded the release of Mujahid Dokubo-Asari, a jailed militant leader.

But one of the three groups that the council said it represented later denied taking part in the attack.

"This action was carried out without our consent by fighters loyal solely to Asari and has absolutely nothing to do with MEND," said a spokesman for the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta which was behind February's devastating attacks.


One industry source said it was possible the attack was aimed at stealing fuel from the convoy rather than pressing any demands.

The Niger Delta was relatively quiet in September after a spate of kidnappings for ransom in August. A total of 18 oil workers were abducted that month in eight separate incidents. One of the hostages was shot dead by troops during a botched attempt to release him, while all the others have been freed.

Violence in the delta is rooted in poverty, corruption and lawlessness. Most inhabitants of the wetlands region, which is almost the size of England, have seen few benefits from five decades of oil extraction that has damaged their environment.

Their resentment towards the oil industry breeds militancy, but other factors such as the struggle for control of a lucrative oil smuggling business and the lure of ransoms also fuel violence.
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