Eight foreign workers were kidnapped on Friday from a drilling rig off Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta in the latest incident to highlight the tenuous security of oil operations in Africa's largest crude producer.
The kidnappers have offered to negotiate the release of the hostages -- six Britons, an American and a Canadian who were taken from the drilling rig Bulford Dolphin before dawn, according to the rig's operating company.
"We understand that the group [of kidnappers] has been in touch with the local companies about negotiations," said Sheena Wallace, a spokesman for Aberdeen, Scotland-based Dolphin Drilling, which operates the rig for the Nigerian oil company Peak Petroleum.
She said she did not have the names of the missing crewmen, information about demands or what group was behind the kidnapping.
Police spokesman Haz Iwendi said in the capital, Abuja, that no group had claimed responsibility and no demands had been made. In recent months, oil-region militants have blown up oil pipelines and kidnapped other foreign workers to press their demands for a greater share of the country's oil wealth.
"Security agencies are trailing them to secure the release of the hostages as soon as possible," Iwendi said.
Presidential spokeswoman Remi Oyo said "the abduction was the result of a misunderstanding between [local] communities and the oil company involved."
Militants in the Niger Delta have justified other such kidnappings as part of their campaign for local control of oil revenues by inhabitants of the country's south, who feel cheated out of the region's oil revenue. Other groups have kidnapped oil workers as bargaining chips to prod companies to increase jobs or improve benefits. The kidnappings usually end peacefully.
Meanwhile, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo promised more funds to the navy to help secure the country's oil assets in the Gulf of Guinea.
"You have to ensure that our economic life-wire, which is maritime, is secured," Obasanjo said at a parade celebrating the 50th anniversary of the country's navy. Oil exports mostly from the delta region account for more than 95 percent of Nigeria's foreign earnings and more than 80 percent of total government revenue.
Norway's Fred Olsen Energy, Dolphin Drilling's parent company, said in a statement that Nigerian and other authorities were working to resolve the situation.
Wallace said by telephone from Aberdeen that the kidnappers struck the platform, which had 84 people on board, at about 5am on Friday. The rig was about 65km off the Nigerian coast.
She said drilling had temporarily been suspended and that the families of the kidnap victims, as well as other crew members, had been contacted.
Last month, an unidentified gunman riding a motorcycle shot and killed an American riding in a car to work at the offices of the US drilling equipment maker Baker Hughes in the southern Nigerian oil hub of Port Harcourt.
Nigeria, which normally pumps 2.5 million barrels of crude a day, is the fifth-largest source of oil imports to the US. Unrest in the country has cut production and helped drive oil prices higher.
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