Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pirates Hijack Nigeria Oil Ship

Pirates in Nigeria attacked at least two oil vessels in the offshore waters of the Niger Delta on Saturday, briefly seizing a group of oil workers including seven French citizens, security sources said. Gunmen early Saturday hijacked the vessel Bourbon Ajax in the oil-producing delta, also taking 10 Nigerians on board hostage, two private security sources said. The boat and the captives were released a short time later. One security source said the boat was contracted by Canada's Addax Petroleum. A French embassy spokesman in Nigeria confirmed that the French workers were safe. A Nigerian military spokesman had no immediate comment. Insecurity in the heart of Africa's biggest oil and gas industry has shut down around a fifth of the OPEC member's oil production since early 2006. Security experts have said that Nigeria's navy is ill equipped to deal with militants and pirates, who use small fast speedboats to navigate the delta's narrow creeks, forcing oil firms to take their own additional security measures.Addax's CEO Jean Claude Gandur told reporters last week that his firm had hired ex-U.S. military speed boats staffed by Nigerian navy personnel to protect its workers and oil facilities in the delta. Foreign oil companies routinely hire private security contractors in southern Nigeria but are often cautious about explicit relationships with the military, whom militant and rights groups have in the past accused of human rights abuses. Pirates also attacked a second oil vessel in the delta, but the ship managed to escape with only bullet holes to the hull, a security source said. The vessel is believed to be under contract with French oil major Total. In a third incident, a security source said an unidentified vessel came under attack with pirates taking cellular phones, money and other valuables from the passengers on board. Criminal gangs have taken advantage of the break down in law and order in the delta, funding themselves through a lucrative trade in stolen oil and frequently kidnapping expatriates, local businessmen and politicians for ransom. Experts blame the delta's insecurity and chronic federal funding shortfalls for the country's inability to produce anywhere near its capacity of around 3 million barrels per day. Nigeria is currently pumping near 2 million bpd.

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