British oil worker kidnapped in Nigeria


Gunmen seized a British manager from oil services firm Hydrodive in the anarchic Nigerian city of Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta yesterday, authorities said.

"The man was on his way to work when some gunmen in a car overtook his vehicle and blocked it before snatching him," said Felix Ogbaudu, commissioner of police of Rivers state where Port Harcourt is located.

Ogbaudu initially gave the man's nationality as American, but the British embassy in Abuja later said he was a Briton. "We can confirm he is a British national," said an embassy spokesman.

Abductions for ransom are frequent in the oil producing delta. Friday's incident raises to at least five the number of foreigners being held captive by various armed groups. Violence escalated in the impoverished Niger Delta early last year when armed rebels demanding control over oil revenues and an end to neglect by corrupt politicians started blowing up pipelines and oilfields.

Their raids shut down at least a fifth of oil output from Nigeria, an OPEC member and the world's eighth-biggest exporter of crude.

The disruption has contributed to record high oil prices on world markets. But the violence in the delta degenerated over time into an uncontrollable wave of abductions for ransom, armed robberies, turf wars between gangs and fighting connected to a dangerous trade in stolen crude.

Over 200 foreigners have been kidnapped since early 2006 and most have been released unharmed in exchange for money, fuelling the trend.

Thousands of expatriate workers and their relatives have fled the region, slowing down some oil and infrastructure projects.

Port Harcourt, the delta's largest city, has been particularly prone to kidnappings and street gunbattles.

This week, the army deployed troops to try to restore order after a bloody street war between rival gangs killed at least 15 people.

Politically motivated attacks on the oil industry have subsided since a new president took office on May 29 thpromising negotiations and efforts to develop the delta, but the security forces have been unable to stop the crime wave.