Special to USAfricaonline.com , Nigeria360 e-group and USAfrica multimedia networks (Houston).
Gunmen attacked an oil rig off Nigeria’s coast on Monday (November 8, 2010), taking two Americans, two French and one Canadian hostage while wounding two other people, oil company and security sources said. The pre-dawn attack occurred in the country’s turbulent Niger Delta region, the heart of one of the world’s largest oil industries.
Most kidnappings in the region are for ransom, but it was not immediately clear whether a demand had been made.
“A security breach has occurred on the High Island VII jackup rig, which had recently arrived on location, preparing to commence infill drilling at the Okoro field,” said a statement from Afren, the company that oversees the rig.
“Two crew members are stable after receiving wounds to the leg, and have been evacuated by helicopter to a shore-based clinic. It is believed that five crew members have been taken hostage.”
It did not provide the nationalities of the victims, but a company source said later that they included two Americans, two French and one Canadian. A security source also provided the same nationalities.
Separately Monday, gunmen seized two Indonesians and also shot and injured two other people in a village in Akwa Ibom state, off which the raided rig is situated, police said.
No details were given on the circumstances surrounding the kidnapping or about the abducted foreigners, including why they were in Nigeria.
The United States called for the prompt release of all the hostages.
“We’re, of course, concerned about their safety and hope for their immediate release,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said.
Washington was working with Abuja to secure their freedom, he said.
Afren said a second “security breach” occurred at a support vessel, but did not give details. Its statement said “the vessel and rig are both under the control of the company.”
Preparations for drilling operations on the rig had been temporarily suspended.
The security source said a crew member was shot in the leg after resisting the attackers.
The Okoro field is about 12 kilometres (eight miles) off the coast off Akwa Ibom state. Afren is headquartered in Britain and works with a local partner, AMNI International, while the rig is owned by Transocean.
A French foreign ministry spokesman confirmed it had received information indicating that two of its nationals had been taken hostage.
“We have indications concerning the abduction …and the possible presence of two French nationals among the people abducted,” said ministry spokesman Bernard Valero. “We are looking to confirm these indications.”
In September three French oil workers were captured from their ship after an attack that led to a two-hour gun battle with authorities. A Thai national was also abducted.
Asked on Monday about progress in finding the previous victims, the French foreign ministry only said that efforts were under way to free them.
Criminal gangs seeking ransom payments as well as militants claiming to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue have in recent years abducted scores of foreigners and family members of wealthy Nigerians.
An amnesty deal offered to militants last year greatly reduced unrest in the Niger Delta but several incidents have occurred in recent months ahead of elections set to take place early next year.
Twin car bombings in the capital Abuja near independence day celebrations on October 1 killed at least 12 people and were claimed by the country’s most prominent rebel group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.
MEND, which claims to be fighting on behalf of local people in the deeply impoverished Niger Delta, has also been seen as an umbrella organisation for criminal gangs.
The group has previously claimed responsibility for a large number of incidents in the Niger Delta, including attacks on pipelines and kidnappings.
Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil exporters, but the government has failed to provide adequate basic services, including sufficient electricity. ref:AFP/USAfrica/
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