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Striking Nigerian Workers Take Hostages

April 29, 2003

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) _ Striking Nigerian oil workers have taken about 100 foreign workers hostage on several offshore oil installations, company officials and union workers said Tuesday. The hostages include 21 Americans.

The strikers have been holding 97 foreign workers, including 35 Britons, aboard four offshore drilling rigs owned by Houston-based Transocean since April 19. The events occurred in a remote area off the West African nation’s coastline.

The rigs were drilling wells on behalf of oil multinationals Royal/Dutch Shell and TotalFina Elf.

Western diplomats said the hostages included 21 Americans and 35 Britons. Their conditions were unclear, although there were no initial reports of injuries or deaths.

Thirty-four people left two rigs by boat Monday, Transocean spokesman Guy Cantwell said. Two were Transocean employees, while the other 32 work for third-party service companies.

Cantwell did not know whether the 34 people were among the 97 hostages.

A source close to the ongoing negotiations between company officials and the strikers told The Associated Press that some of the foreign workers sent e-mails from the facilities to family members and diplomats Monday complaining they had received death threats.

The source spoke on condition of anonymity.

Shell spokesman Donald Boham said company officials were involved in the talks. He was unaware of any threats being made.

``The striking Nigerian workers have prevented the foreign workers from leaving the rigs,″ Boham said without elaborating.

The strikers were protesting a decision by Transocean to use boats instead of helicopters to ferry them from company rigs about 25 miles offshore the restive Niger Delta state of Rivers, said Joseph Akinlaja, secretary-general of Nigeria’s largest oil workers’ union.

The strikers, whose numbers were unknown, also were angered by company threats to institute disciplinary action against five union members, Akinlaja said.

Cantwell said the 100 striking workers were being served court injunctions. He said the situation was calm and there were no injuries.

``We are working on all levels of the Nigerian system, including government authorities and the branch of the union above the striking branch, who disagrees with the strike, and we’re trying to resolve it as quickly and safely as we can,″ he said.

Sabotage and hostage takings by community activists, labor groups and thugs demanding compensation for land use and alleged environmental damage are relatively common in the Niger Delta, where nearly all of Nigeria’s oil is drilled.

Hostages rarely are harmed.

Ethnic and political violence is another frequent hazard in the region. Fighting in March shut down nearly 40 percent of Nigeria’s production of 2.2 million barrels a day.

Nigeria is one of the world’s largest oil exporters and the fifth largest producer of U.S. oil imports.