Nigerian militants release hostage list

2010-11-13 14:28
Maiduguri - Nigeria's main militant group in the oil-rich southern delta on Friday released a list of hostages it had taken from an attack on an offshore oil rig, with at least two names matching those of a US and a Canadian worker believed to be held.

In an email, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) identified the seven men taken from a rig operated by London-based Afren PLC - which includes two US workers, one Canadian, two French and two Indonesians. The email sent to journalists described the men as being "in good health and (they) will be in our custody for a while".

"Our fighters (caused) extensive damage on this facility and attempted to set it ablaze as they were instructed to do," the email read.

The list of seven names included that of James Robertson, a US worker on the rig for contractor Transocean Ltd. Local television stations in Mississippi earlier this week reported that Robertson, of Silver Creek, Mississippi, had been abducted during the attack on Monday on the rig 11km off Nigeria's coast.

The Canadian named is Bob Croke, a resident of Newfoundland, listed as working for a firm called PPI. He had earlier been identified as one of the hostages by a family member.

An Afren official reached on Friday morning declined to comment. Guy Cantwell, a Houston-based spokesperson for Transocean, said his company would "neither confirm or deny" the information contained in the communinque. Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling contractor based in Zug, Switzerland, owned the rig doing the exploratory drilling.

Two workers injured

The email said the two Indonesians were seized off a nearby support ship operated by contractor Century Energy Services Ltd. One of the abducted Frenchmen worked for Sodexo, a France-based catering company, while the other was identified as working for Transocean as well.

Two workers suffered injuries in the attack on Monday. The Sun Herald newspaper of Gulfport, Mississippi, reported on Friday that Mississippi resident James "Butch" Johnson, aged 58, was one of the injured men. The newspaper said Johnson already had one surgery on his wounded leg and faces another operation next week.

Johnson said he believes the group that burst in was after money and didn't intend to shoot him.

"They came in to be intimidating, shooting into the floor," he said.

Mend began a campaign of pipeline bombings and high-profile kidnappings in 2006. Militants in the delta, a region of winding creeks and mangroves about the size of South Carolina, want more oil money to come to an area still gripped by abject poverty and pollution after more than 50 years of oil production.

Several Mend commanders took part of a government-sponsored amnesty deal last year to lay down their weapons, but a faction remained active. Most recently, Mend claimed responsibility for an October 1 car bomb attack that struck Nigeria's capital, Abuja, killing at least 12 people and wounding dozens more.

Three French workers released

The hostage list came from a new email address previously not associated with the militant group. The group apparently has been changing email addresses after Henry Okah, an alleged gunrunner long thought to be a Mend leader, was arrested in South Africa on terrorism charges stemming from the October 1 attack. The group's alliances, with reputed ties between politicians and criminal gangs that run the delta, make it difficult to say who now remains in control of the Mend name, analysts and security experts have said.

In the email on Friday, Mend also said it released three French workers and a Thai expatriate kidnapped on September 22 during an attack on an offshore rig operated by Addax Petroleum. The workers were released from captivity on Wednesday after Mand claimed to have negotiated with their original kidnappers to take control of them.

"Owing to their generally poor state of health, we were compelled to release them on humanitarian grounds," the statement read.

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