August 9, 2006

Four expats kidnapped from oil ship off Nigeria

By Tume Ahemba

LAGOS (Reuters) - Two Norwegians and two Ukrainians were
kidnapped at gunpoint from an oil services ship off the coast
of Nigeria on Wednesday, the latest in a series of abductions
in Africa's top oil producer, authorities said.

The kidnappings coincide with an upsurge in militant
attacks against the oil industry which has crippled a quarter
of oil production in the world's eighth largest exporter.

"Four foreigners were kidnapped, two Norwegians and two
Ukrainians," said Hafiz Ringim, police commissioner for Bayelsa
state, where the attack happened.

"They were working in their boat around 4:00 or 5:00 a.m.
when some armed men believed to be disgruntled members of the
community attacked them and took them away. Right now, we have
not been able to make contact with the hostages, but we are
working on that."

The four work on a vessel owned by Trico Supply, a
Norwegian unit of U.S.-based Trico Marine Services Inc.. The
ship provides services to an offshore drilling rig owned by
Norwegian Fred Olsen Energy.

Eight foreign workers were kidnapped from that same rig for
two days in June in a dispute with a nearby community over jobs
and investment.

Kidnappings of foreign workers are frequent in the mangrove
creeks and swamps of the Niger Delta, which is home to all of
Nigeria's oil and gas resources.

A German and three Filipinos were kidnapped in another part
of the delta last week, and are still being held.


Norway's ambassador to Nigeria told Reuters that officials
had indications of who was behind the abductions and hoped to
get into contact with them soon.

"We are hoping that this will be solved fairly fast,"
Ambassador Tore Nedreboe said. "There is hope of getting in
contact with the kidnappers relatively quickly and getting into
negotiations with them."

Militancy is fueled by widespread feelings of injustice in
the vast wetlands region where most people live in poverty
despite the wealth being pumped from their ancestral lands.

A series of attacks by the Movement for the Emancipation of
the Niger Delta (MEND) in February forced Royal Dutch Shell to
evacuate hundreds of staff from the western delta, reducing
output by about 500,000 barrels a day.

MEND is fighting for more local control over the delta's
oil resources, compensation for pollution and the release of
two jailed leaders from the region.

Criminal gangs involved in the large-scale theft of crude
oil from pipelines have also been involved in kidnappings, and
it is often difficult to distinguish between the two.

(Additional reporting by Joergen Frich and John Acher in