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8 kidnapped from oil rig off Nigeria

1 American among foreigners seized

ABUJA, Nigeria -- Eight foreign workers, including one American, were kidnapped from a drilling rig off Nigeria's oil-rich southern delta yesterday in the latest incident highlighting the tenuous security of oil operations in this nation, Africa's largest crude producer.

The kidnappers have offered to negotiate the release of the hostages -- six Britons, the American, and a Canadian -- who were taken before dawn from the drilling rig Bulford Dolphin, according to the company that operates the rig, which was about 40 miles off the Nigerian coast.

Oil prices jumped by more than $2 a barrel yesterday after the report revived concerns about the stability of Nigerian supplies.

Analysts said anxiety over Iran's nuclear ambitions also supported crude futures.

``We understand that the group [of kidnappers] has been in touch with the local companies about negotiations," said Sheena Wallace, a spokesman for Dolphin Drilling Ltd., which is based in Aberdeen, Scotland.

She said she did not know the names of the missing crewmen or what group was behind the kidnapping.

Police spokesman Haz Iwendi said in the capital, Abuja, that no group had claimed responsibility and that no demands had been made. ``Security agencies are trailing them to secure the release of the hostages as soon as possible," Iwendi said.

Presidential spokeswoman Remi Oyo said, ``the abduction was the result of a misunderstanding between [local] communities and the oil company involved." She did not elaborate.

Militants in the Niger Delta region have blown up pipelines and kidnapped foreign workers in recent months to press their demands for a greater share of the country's oil wealth.

Other groups have kidnapped oil workers as bargaining chips to prod companies to create more jobs or improve benefits.

The kidnappings usually end peacefully.

President Olusegun Obasanjo promised more funds to help the navy secure oil assets in the Gulf of Guinea.

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