French Prime Minister in Niger Delta amid tight security

24th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

French Prime Minister Francois Fillon travelled to the Niger Delta, the restive heart of Nigeria's oil industry, on Saturday amid tight security.

AKPO OIL PLATFORM - French Prime Minister Francois Fillon travelled to the Niger Delta, the restive heart of Nigeria's oil industry, on Saturday amid tight security.

His journey -- part of a two-day visit to Nigeria -- included a brief trip by helicopter to a facility on Total's Akpo oil and gas field, accompanied by Total director general Christophe de Margerie.

Before visiting Akpo, Fillon, accompanied by a police and army escort of several dozen heavily armed men equipped with light armoured vehicules, visited a French-owned shipyard in Onne, the nearest seaport to Nigeria's major oil town Port Harcourt.

"The Niger Delta is a strategic region" and a "major economic zone", said Fillon, who on Friday told the Nigerian armed forces that France could help pacify this region where Total pumps 15 percent of its production in Africa.

Fillon told Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua that France could help by "training army units" and "if necessary" by making "means" available to him.

"We estimate the production loss resulting from kidnappings and sabotage at around 500,000 barreks per day" for all oil companies operating in the Niger Delta, De Margerie said.

But he added: "The region is definitely one of the finest jewels in the oil producing world in the long term."

Fillon's visit went ahead despite a warning from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that it was declaring the whole Niger Delta a no-fly zone in protest at army raids on militant camps.

There has been an escalation of fighting in the Niger Delta over the past week and the waterways of this region of creeks and swamps are frequently the scene of pirate attacks.

The Akpo field, 110 kilometres (70 miles) from the Nigerian coast, pumps oil from depths of between 3,000 and 3,800 metres.

"This is a chance for me to come and pay hommage to a very great French company," Fillon said, dismissing suggestions that the trip was a "public relations operation for Total".

Fillon, who started his Africa trip by a two-day visit to Cameroon, will return to France on Saturday night.

AFP / Expatica

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