Armed militants launched a wave of attacks across Nigeria’s troubled Niger delta Saturday, blowing up oil and gas pipelines and seizing nine foreign oil workers in the latest violence to strike the troubled region.
In an e-mail to The Associated Press, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta claimed responsibility for the attacks and for kidnapping the oil workers from a boat belonging to U.S. oil service firm Wilbros. The militants said those abducted included three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino. The e-mail identified each by name, but the identities could not immediately be confirmed. A Wilbros official said more than 40 militants overpowered military guards on the boat near the oil port city of Warri before dawn. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Wilbros was working on a contract to lay pipelines for Royal Dutch Shell at the time of the attack. Maj. Said Hammed, spokesman for a military task force charged with security in the Niger Delta, confirmed there was an attack on an oil company, but he had no details. The militants claimed other attacks in the volatile Niger Delta, including the destruction of Shell’s Forcados crude export terminal, the rupturing of a pipeline manifold and blasting a state-run pipeline that feeds gas from the Escravos gas plant in the delta to the country’s commercial capital, Lagos. A Shell spokesman said one pipeline was ruptured near Shell’s Chanomi Creek facility, while another was ruptured and set ablaze near Shell’s Forcados export terminal. The fire was quickly put out, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media about the attacks. Both facilities are in the western delta. It was not immediately known what effect the attacks would have on production. Nigeria, Africa’s leading oil producer and the fifth-biggest source of U.S. oil imports, produces about 2.5 million barrels of oil per day. The militant group said the latest violence was a response to attacks by military helicopters Wednesday and Friday on ethnic Jaw communities in the region. The military said its helicopters targeted barges used by criminal gangs to steal crude oil from pipelines for sale, a thriving illegal trade in the region sometimes taking up to 10 percent of daily oil exports. Hammed said armed men guarding the barges had fired on a helicopter patrolling the area. The militants said they would now target all helicopters in the delta, including civilian ones. They have accused foreign oil companies of providing their helicopters and air strips for military operations in the oil region. On Friday, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported that militant commander Godswill Tamuno had declared “total war” on foreign oil interests and warned foreign oil workers to leave the oil-rich southern delta by midnight. The same group has issued similar threats for more than a month, and claimed responsibility for attacking two pipelines and abducting for foreign oil workers who were later released. The group says it is fighting for greater local control of oil wealth in the impoverished region. On Saturday, the militants reiterated warnings and asked foreign oil workers to leave the Niger Delta. “Expatriates must realize that they have been caught up in a war, and the Nigerian government can do nothing to guarantee the security of anyone,” the group said. “They are warned again to leave while the doors are still open.” Last month, militants held four men – from the United States, Britain, Bulgaria and Honduras – for 19 days before releasing them unharmed. On Friday, Shell shut down an oil facility pumping 37,800 barrels of crude daily in Nigeria’s southern oil-rich delta, following an unexplained blaze at a nearby oil well. — Associated Press writer Dulue Mbachu in Lagos contributed to this report.