Royal Dutch Shell has been forced to halt oil exports in Nigeria following a pipeline fire that is still blazing in the country's oil-producing Niger Delta region, a company spokesman said on Thursday.
"We have declared a force majeure. That means we could not load crude oil from the Bonny Terminal until we restart operation again, " a Shell spokesman told Xinhua by telephone.
But Nigerian Minister of State for Petroleum Edmund Daukoru told the official News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the move of Shell would not affect the country's crude export.
"The incident will not hamper our production because we are even producing above our quota since we are also producing from our condensate," Daukoru said.
Shell had closed two oilfields and a flow station producing about 180,000 barrels per day (bpd) in all, or seven percent of the country's oil output, following an explosion on a pipeline operated by the company, which took place 50 km south-west of the southern Nigerian oil city of Port Harcourt on Tuesday morning.
Shell, which accounts for almost half of the world's eighth largest oil exporter's daily output of 2.5 million barrels, said the explosion may have been caused by a dynamite attack carried out by unidentified persons.
"Today, we will try to fight the fire and commence repairs of the pipeline to see what production we can restore," the company spokesman said. Daukoru said that eyewitness account revealed that the fire on the pipeline had died down considerably and was not expected to pose any serious threat to life and property.
Nigerian newspapers reported that three more bodies were recovered from the site of the explosion on Wednesday, bringing the number of casualties to 11.
The attackers are reportedly suspected to be members of one of the militia groups in the restive Niger Delta swamp, where the majority of Nigeria's oil is produced. Their motives are yet to be identified.
Barely 24 hours after the Shell fire, a fresh pipeline explosion claimed five lives in Edo, one of the oil-producing states in the Niger Delta, Nigeria's Vanguard newspaper reported.
Oil thieves cut through the pipeline operated by state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. at Ehor in the Uhunmwode local government but a spark ignited a fire that caused the explosion, it said.
Over the past few years, hundreds of people died yearly while collecting fuel in this way in the Niger Delta.