22 October 2007

Nigeria: Militants Attack Shell Facility

Lagos — After what seemed like a lull, armed militants believed to be members of the dreaded Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) have launched an attack on a Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel belonging to Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC) at EA field, off the shore of Bayelsa State.

They kidnapped seven persons in the process.

A Shell Spokesman, Mr. Precious Okolobo, who confirmed the attack, said those taken hostage were four Nigerians, a Croatian, a Briton and one Russian, who are all contractors to the oil giant.

According to him, the contractors were carrying out maintenance work on the facility preparatory to when activities would resume when the militants struck last Saturday night.

The EA field with the capacity of producing 115,000 barrel per day has not been producing since the production from the Sea Eagle FPSO was suspended in February, last year.

Speaking with THISDAY on telephone last night, Okolobo stated that the weekend's attack had prompted the Royal Dutch company to evacuate its staff for safety reasons.

"We are concerned about the safety of the staff and our thoughts are with those taken away and their families at this difficult time. We are concerned about the safety of the staff of these contracting firms and wish they will be released safely on time. We are supporting efforts of government and their employees to secure their release," Okolobo said.

However, THISDAY checks have revealed that the abducted men were working for two firms, Hydro Dive and Reson Interoil, contracting for SPDC.

The expatriates taken hostage are Captain Theo Courtriers (Russia), Lee Mamamara (USA) and Mate Lusa (Croatia).

MEND has also vowed to map out strategies which would enable it hit at Angola and any of that country's interests in Nigeria for holding its Commander, Henry Okah, alias Jomo Gbomo, in criminal detention.

The group said Angola and its interests had become enemies of the Niger Delta.

There are conflicting information, however, since MEND in an online press release admitted that it carried out the attack but only acknowledged seizing the expatriates.

The group was silent on the four Nigerians said to have been held hostage as well

MEND which blamed the Angolan government for the resumption of the attack in a statement by the Commander of the operation; one Don Pedro, admitted taking three hostages from the attack which took place around 8.45pm Saturday night.

Information available to THISDAY said the militants swarmed the facility in over 30 speed boats armed to the teeth with assorted weapons which elicited no resistance from their victims before they took their preys away into the creeks.

"Yesterday, at about 8.45pm Nigerian time, combatants and operatives of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) successfully attacked an EA field vessel belonging to Shell Petroleum Development Company taking away three hostages," the online statement said.

"The names of the hostages are Capt Theo Courtriers (Russia), Lee Mcmamara (USA ) and Mate Lusa ( Croatia ).This campaign is in direct response to the insincerity of the Nigerian state and the international community to honour and respect the travails of the people of the Niger Delta and provide privilege to those who lead the agitation for a better Niger Delta.

"The Angolan government must therefore accept full responsibility for this onslaught. By holding in criminal detention a key stakeholder in the Niger Delta struggle, the government of Angola has crossed a line that they may never be able to go back on. For in due time, our campaigns will be strategically focused on Angolan concerns in Nigeria . We are building a list of these at the moment," the group warned.

Pedro insisted that Okah was being held in detention "with the connivance of the Nigerian government even when there was no evidence of any criminality against him.

"How warped? This madness will not be hurriedly forgotten. There will be no warnings for the things that we shall do in the time to come," Pedro said.

He claimed that the Angolan government had tried to rope in their leader in criminal offences, but the law courts of that country absolved him of all allegations and wondered why they were still keeping him in jail without any offence.

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