June 2, 2006

Diplomats checking reports of abductions in Nigeria

LAGOS (Reuters) - British and U.S. diplomats in Nigeria
were checking reports on Friday of an attack on an offshore oil
rig in which up to six Britons, two Americans and a Canadian
were taken hostage, the diplomats said.

Security sources said the Beaufort Dolphin rig, operated by
small Nigerian company Peak Petroleum, was attacked around 0200
GMT and a ship cruising nearby, the Ossa Valiant, received a
distress call from the rig.

As well as the expatriates, eight Nigerian staff were
kidnapped in the attack, the sources said, adding that
remaining staff from the rig were being evacuated to the city
of Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta.

"We're following it up as quickly as we can. It's not
confirmed but we are taking it very seriously. We are fearing
the worst," said a British diplomat.

A U.S. diplomat said he had heard the reports from reliable
security sources and was treating them as real.

There was no immediate indication of any link to a campaign
of attacks and abductions by the militant Movement for the
Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), which has cut Nigeria's
oil exports by a quarter.

MEND has usually claimed its attacks within minutes by
sending emails to media, but there was no word from the group
on Friday and they did not immediately respond to messages.

A security source said the attacked rig is located about 60
miles off the coast of southern Nigeria.