3 foreign oil workers, 2 from US, freed in Nigeria

AP News
Posted: Dec 02, 2011 10:51 AM
3 foreign oil workers, 2 from US, freed in Nigeria

Gunmen have freed three foreign workers, two from the U.S., kidnapped from a ship supplying a Chevron Corp. offshore oil field near Nigeria's coast, authorities said Friday.

The U.S. Embassy in Abuja and Chevron separately confirmed the release of the kidnapped workers from contractor Edison Chouest Offshore, based in Galliano, Louisiana. A spokesman for Edison Chouest could not be immediately reached for comment Friday.

Both organizations refused to give further details about the workers' conditions or whether ransom had been paid to secure their freedom after two weeks in captivity in Nigeria's oil-rich, but violent southern delta.

Eight gunmen attacked their ship as it idled Nov. 17 near Chevron's massive Agbami oil field, operated by its Nigerian subsidiary about 70 nautical miles offshore from Bayelsa state in Nigeria's Niger Delta, officials said.

Foreign firms have pumped oil out of Nigeria's Niger Delta for more than 50 years. Despite the billions flowing into the nation's government, many in the delta remain desperately poor, living in polluted waters without access to proper medical care, education or work.

In 2006, militants started a wave of attacks targeting foreign oil companies, including bombing their pipelines, kidnapping their workers and fighting with security forces. That violence waned in 2009 with a government-sponsored amnesty program promising ex-fighters monthly payments and job training. However, few in the delta have seen the promised benefits.

No militant group operating in the delta claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. It came after Exxon Mobil Corp. has seen other contract workers kidnapped in recent weeks. Analysts warn the attacks may signify a fraying of the amnesty deal.

Meanwhile, attacks on crude oil tankers continue to rise around Nigeria, as pirates take over vessels to steal the crude oil or gasoline held in their holds.

The Agbami field is Nigeria's biggest offshore oil producer, with a production capacity of as many as 250,000 barrels a day, Chevron has said.

Nigeria, an OPEC member nation producing about 2.4 million barrels of crude oil a day, is a top supplier to the U.S.


Jon Gambrell can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.