Gunmen kill 13, set oil flow station on fire

HEAVILY armed gunmen yesterday attacked the Benisede flow-station, a Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) operated crude oil facility in the Niger Delta area burning it down, giving rife to fears that recent attacks were part of a wider plan to destabilise the region. It was gathered that the gunmen may have also killed 13 army personnel deployed by government to secure the facility after the Trans-Ramos pipeline was blown up, bringing to 226,000 barrels per day, the volume of Shell�s daily output, now shut-in.

A Shell spokesman said the attackers invaded the flowstation in speed boats, burnt down two staff quarters, damaged the processing facilities and escaped.
Following several attacks and growing insecurity in the area, the company has commenced evacuation of personnel on duty from Benisede and neighbouring flowstations including Opukushi, Ogbotobo and Tunu.

All four flowstations had been shut following the vandalisation of the Trans Ramos pipeline on January 11. The company spokesman who did not want his name in print said the injured persons had been moved to Warri for medical attention, adding that the relevant government authorities had been informed about the situation.

Brigadier General Elias Zamani, Commander of the Joint Task Force, confirmed that there was an exchange of gunfire between his men and the youths. Asked to confirm the report that 13 soldiers were killed, he said there were casualties on both sides but he did not know the actual number of persons that were killed.
�I have sent my men to go and confirm. I cannot tell you any figure and don�t go and start writing that so and so number of persons were killed because we do not have the details,� he said.
Pressed for comments on when the JTF would launch its counter attack on the youths, he said: �Who told you I was going to launch a counter attack on anybody? Are we fighting any war?�

An SPDC official who was contacted on the number of its workers and contract staff that were shot dead said: �I can only tell you that there are casualties. I do not have the figures.�

Yesterday�s attack came on the heels of last Wednesday abduction of four expatriate staff of an oil company and the vandalisation of Trans Ramos pipeline belonging to the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

Bayelsa State government spokesman, Mr Ekiyor Welson, said: �We understand there was a shootout between the boys and the armed forces. We�ve not heard of any casualties. The boys have taken over the flow station. The military are working in the area now.�

Vanguard gathered that the gunmen struck military personnel guarding the facility shot and killed one of their men. An SPDC official who craved anonymity said about 13 soldiers and equal number of civilians were feared killed in the attack.

There are indications that the same gunmen were behind the kidnapping of four foreign oil workers from a boat which was working alongside the Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company (SNEPCO) operated EA FPSO vessel.

Officials said the oil workers included an American, a Briton, a Bulgarian and a Honduran who have been held since Wednesday somewhere in the Delta creeks.
Following the incident, SNEPCO also shut in production at the EA platform which accounts for 120,000 barrels of oil output per day, bringing to 226,000 b/d the volume of oil production shut in.

Last week, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), a previously unknown ethnic Ijaw separatist group, claimed responsibility for the attacks and demanded the release of Alhaji Mujahid Asari Dokubo, the detained leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force (NDPVF) and Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the impeached governor of Bayelsa State who was seen as a champion of local autonomy.

Asari declared a cease-fire in August 2004 and vowed to pursue his goals through political agitation, but he was arrested last year after vowing to tear Nigeria apart. He is to appear in court tomorrow on treason charges. Asari�s lawyer insists his group has no link with the recent attacks.

Navy spokesman, Captain Obiara Medani, said security forces were still trying to locate the gang in the creeks south of Warri but that any negotiation with the group was a �political matter� he would not discuss. �We are making progress as to their location,� he said.

Also speaking on the development, Governor Goodluck Jonathan of Bayelsa State confirmed the attack of the flow station, yesterday, at a reception in honour of legionnaires in Yenagoa to mark the end of this year�s Armed Forces Remembrance Week. He warned that if the situation persisted, the state government might be compelled to call on the Federal Government to take over the troubled area.

Gov. Jonathan said government would not fold its hand and watch criminals turn the state to their safe haven, adding: �We should not allow any section of the state to be sanctuary of criminals.�

He said government could not accept a situation where Bayelsa people could not move freely in the creek, stressing that the state deputy governor who is an indigene of Ekeremor was expected to lead a high powered delegation to the area to restore normalcy.

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