Cameroon: Attack on Perenco oil vessel kills 5

By Jon Gambrell
Associated Press / November 17, 2010

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LAGOS, Nigeria—Gunmen killed five people guarding an offshore oil field operated by French firm Perenco SA in Cameroon, the company said Wednesday, a bloody attack in a region getting more dangerous for oil workers and sailors.

The attack late Tuesday night came as the vessel operated at an oil field abutting Nigerian territorial waters, possibly signaling that militants waging attacks in recent days from that country's oil-rich Niger Delta targeted the crew. However, no militant group in either country immediately claimed responsibility for the assault.

The attack killed three Cameroonian soldiers and two private Cameroonian security contractors as they guarded Perenco's Moudi oil field, the company said.

"Perenco is currently lending all the support it can to the Cameroon authorities at this sad time and will provide further information as and when appropriate," the company said in the statement.

The oil-rich Gulf of Guinea is increasingly becoming a target for pirate attacks, mainly from Nigeria and Cameroon. Areas around Cameroon's nearby Bakassi Peninsula, where militias have been fighting with government troops since Nigeria ceded the land to Cameroon in 2006, remain prone to piracy and attacks.

Meanwhile, militants from Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta have launched a series of new attacks in recent days, raiding two offshore oil fields in recent days and kidnapping at least 14 workers -- seven of whom are expatriates. The main militant group in the region, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has claimed responsibility for those attacks and promised more in the region in the days to come.

Most attacks in Cameroon come from kidnappings for ransom of sailors and oil company employees working in the volatile region. Most recently, gunmen kidnapped six hostages -- four Ukrainians, a Croatian, and a Filipino -- in September off Cameroon's coast and released them the following month.

However, the use of violence has increased over time, with sailors beaten, stabbed and even shot by assailants. The increased violence appears to be "a spillover from the whole Nigeria problem," said Pottengal Mukundan, the director of the International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy worldwide.

"In the attacks off Nigeria, the crews have been shot at before," he said. "It is very violent because the pirates will shoot to injure or kill, as opposed to the attacks off the coast of Somalia, where the shots are not intended to harm the crew. They shoot in order to get the vessel to slow down or stop so they can board the ship."

Asked about Tuesday's attack, Mukundan said: "It is wanton and senseless violence."

The Moudi field and others operated by Perenco in partnership with Exxon Mobil Corp., Kosmos Energy and Cameroon's state-run oil company produce about 8,000 barrels of oil a day. As a whole, Cameroon produces only 66,000 barrels of oil a day, according to government statistics -- an amount easily dwarfed by neighboring Nigeria's estimated 2.2 million barrels-a-day production.