Gunmen attack rig off Nigeria, take five foreign hostages
Gunmen attacked an oil rig off Nigeria's coast on Monday, taking two Americans, two French and one Canadian hostage while wounding two other people, 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, and it was not immediately clear whether a ransom had been demanded.
"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.
Afren added in its statement that a second "security breach" occurred at a support vessel, but did not provide details. The 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 located some 12 kilometres (eight miles) off the coast off Nigeria's Akwa Ibom state. Afren is headquartered in Britain and works with a local partner, AMNI International, while the rig is owned by Transocean.
Nigerian security officials could not provide precise details on the attack, the latest in the Niger Delta.
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 off Lagos 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 kidnapped 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 French victims, the French foreign ministry refused to comment in detail, saying only that efforts were underway to free them.
Criminal gangs seeking ransom payments as well as militants claiming to be fighting for a fairer distribution of oil revenue have abducted scores of foreigners and family members of wealthy Nigerians in recent years.
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 militant 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 had never before struck in the capital, and rarely with such a high number of casualties. It had previously claimed responsibility for a large number of incidents in the Niger Delta, including attacks on pipelines and kidnappings.
Sabotage of oil facilities also occurs frequently in the region.
Late last month, a pipeline belonging to the Italian oil firm Eni was attacked, causing a 4,000-barrel-per-day production cut.
President Goodluck Jonathan, who is running in elections early next year, is from the Niger Delta.
Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil exporters, but the government has failed to provide adequate basic services, including sufficient electricity.
© 2010 AFP