Thu, Nov 23, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Gunmen seize employees from Italian oil vessel

DANGEROUS JOB Oil workers in Nigeria must regularly brave a high risk of attacks, which has cut the country's oil output by 25 percent this year

AP , LAGOS

Gunmen have seized several hostages from an Italian oil supply vessel off the coast of southern Nigeria, security officials said yesterday.

It was not immediately known how many people were taken hostage or what their nationalities were, but two private security contractors confirmed the incident, which occurred overnight on a vessel belonging to Agip, a subsidiary of Italian oil giant Eni SpA. The contractors asked for anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

The vessel was about 50km off the coast of Nigeria's Rivers State at the time, the officials said.

Another oil security worker said a ransom demand had already been received by the company. Agip officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the situation.

The kidnappings were the latest in a series of attacks on oil installations in the volatile Niger Delta, where most of Nigeria's oil is produced.

Most oil workers kidnapped over the past year have been safely released. The captives are usually freed after a ransom is paid by the companies and the government, according to security analysts.

Since the beginning of this year, militant groups have repeatedly attacked oil pipelines and taken oil workers hostage in violence that has cut about 25 percent of the country's usual crude output of about 2.5 million barrels per day. Civilian protesters have also taken over oil facilities to protest lack of jobs and development in the regions.

On Monday, Eni SpA said a two-week armed siege at its Tebidada oil pumping station in Nigeria ended peacefully and the company resumed an output of 50,000 barrels per day. The facility had been occupied on Nov. 6 by a group of militants and villagers who took 48 Nigerian staff members hostage, seeking compensation from the company for oil spills. Several hostages managed to escape or were released.

Despite the fact that Nigeria is Africa's biggest oil producer, most inhabitants of the oil-rich delta remain poor.

Nigeria is the world's eighth-biggest oil exporter and the fifth-largest source of US oil imports.

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