Nigerian kidnappers free 8 foreign oil workers


Kidnappers in Nigeria have freed the six remaining foreign oil workers they were holding captive after earlier releasing two of the men, a spokesman for the British embassy said today.

Six Britons, one American and one Canadian were seized by gunmen from an oil rig 40 miles off the coast in a night raid on Friday. Two Britons were freed in the early hours of Sunday and the rest several hours later.

"The remaining six have been freed. I understand they're all in good health," a British embassy spokesman said.

The abductions on Friday followed a series of militant attacks this year that have shut down a quarter of oil output from Africa's top producer.

Authorities declined to comment on whether a ransom had been paid, but a security source close to the situation said money had changed hands.

Kidnappings for ransoms are common in the Niger Delta, a vast, impoverished wetland that produces the bulk of Nigeria's 2.4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil. Local people have seen few benefits from the industry.

Oil companies deny paying money to secure the release of kidnapped staff, but security analysts say they usually do pay up and this encourages abductions.

Poverty, graft, lawlessness and struggles over a lucrative trade in stolen crude fuel unrest in the delta.

The militant Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), whose attacks have forced the closure of more than 500,000 barrels per day of oil production since February, said on Saturday it was not involved in the latest abductions.

The kidnappers had not listed specific demands but wanted to force the oil companies to negotiate on a range of issues including employment for local people, environmental impact and development projects, sources from the companies involved said.

The abductions were from the Bulford Dolphin rig, 40 miles (65 km) off the coast of the world's eighth biggest exporter of crude oil.

The sophisticated raid by 20 to 30 gunmen in speedboats showed that even deep offshore facilities are no longer safe.

The rig is owned by the Norwegian oilfield services group Fred Olsen Energy ASA and leased to the Nigerian firm Peak Petroleum, which operates it in partnership with Equator Exploration.

The attack had no impact on oil output as the facility is an exploration rig that will not produce crude for years.