Posted by By EDWARD HARRIS, Associated Press Writer on
Militants holding nine foreign hostages in southern Nigeria said they attacked an oil pipeline Monday and blew up a military vessel in violence that has cut about 20 percent of crude production in Africa's oil giant.
LAGOS, Nigeria — Militants holding nine foreign hostages in southern Nigeria said they attacked an oil pipeline Monday and blew up a military vessel in violence that has cut about 20 percent of crude production in Africa's oil giant.
The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta said they attacked a Shell-operated oil-pipeline switching station known as a "manifold" and a navy vessel. "Both were destroyed with explosives," the group said in an e-mail.
The militants announced no casualties, and said the Nigerian sailors fled when the assailants attacked the boat aboard which sailors based in the region live.
Shell said it had no information on any violence against the company's facilities Monday and had no announcement of further production cuts. Government officials weren't immediately available for comment.
The West African nation is reeling from weekend attacks in which militants blasted oil and gas pipelines and sabotaged a key oil loading terminal belonging to Royal Dutch Shell PLC, forcing the company to halt the flow of about 455,000 barrels a day -- about one-fifth of daily output in Africa's top crude producer.
Nigeria is Africa's leading oil exporter and the United States' fifth-largest supplier, usually exporting 2.5 million barrels daily.
The militants claiming responsibility for the attacks say they have kidnapped nine foreign oil workers and threatened to spread the violence further across the south, and said they would kill President Olusegun Obasanjo if he entered the region.
"We are going to continue with the destruction of oil facilities in Delta State while concluding arrangements for our wider attacks on the entire region," the group said. "We are declaring a war on Obasanjo. We will attack and kill him should he venture into the Niger Delta for any reason."
Shell spokeswoman Caroline Wittgen said Monday she had no information on any attacks but the company was working to ensure workers' security and the hostages' liberation.
"We're offering every assistance we can to secure the safe release of the hostages and necessary measures to ensure the safety of staff," she said. She didn't elaborate.
Efie Alari, a self-declared commander of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, told The Associated Press by telephone Sunday that his group was poised to attack foreign crude oil tankers offshore.
"We'll use our rockets on the ships to stop them from taking our oil," Alari said. His identity could not be independently verified, but the call came from a number the group has used before.
The military said it would do whatever was necessary to ensure tankers remain safe in Nigerian waters.
"I don't know their capabilities, but we're not leaving anything to chance," Maj. Said Hammed, spokesman for the military task force in the Niger Delta, said of militant forces. "The assurance has been given at the highest level of government that oil tankers are safe in Nigerian waters. That assurance remains."
Violence and sabotage of oil operations have been common in the Niger Delta for the past 15 years amid demands by the region's impoverished communities for a greater share of the oil revenue flowing from their land.
The militants, who say they are fighting for the same cause and the freedom of imprisoned ethnic Ijaw leaders, launched a series of attacks Saturday.
In the Forcados estuary, dozens of armed militants seized nine foreigners after storming a barge belonging to the Houston-based oil services company Willbros, which was laying pipeline for Shell. The hostages include three Americans, two Egyptians, two Thais, one Briton and one Filipino, militants and Willbros officials said.
Militants said in an e-mail to AP they had not decided what to do with the hostages.
Hostage takings are a common occurrence in the delta, but most are released unharmed. Last month, militants held four foreigners for 19 days before releasing them unscathed.
Associated Press writer Dulue Mbachu in Lagos, Nigeria contributed to this report.
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