Four Shell workers taken hostage in southern Nigeria

Armed men, riding in three boats, stormed a vessel servicing a Royal Dutch Shell-operated oil field offshore Nigeria's southern coast, taking hostage four foreigners aboard, officials said on Thursday.

"We can confirm that four persons were abducted from a support vessel in SNEPCO (Shell's subsidiary in Nigeria) operated EA shallow offshore field by armed men who arrived in three boats at about 15:55 (1455 GMT) yesterday," a Shell spokesman told Xinhua.

"No fatalities occurred in the incident but one person sustained injuries. We have reported the incident to the authorities," said the spokesman. He refused to disclose the nationalities of the workers.

Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev however confirmed that a Bulgarian man, identified as Milko Nichev, was among the four abducted from the 120,000 barrels of oil per day EA field near the oil city of Port Harcourt.

Bulgaria's embassy in the Nigerian capital of Abuja is in contact with the local authorities and TIDEX, the petroleum company which employs Nichev, as part of attempts to secure his release, said the spokesman.

Nigeria's The Guardian newspaper however said two of the abducted were Britons whose names were given as Pat Crawlay and Nigel Watson-Clark and the other two were Hondurans.

So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the hostage taking, which came a week after Shell lifted the suspension of crude oil export from the west African country following a pipeline explosion that had initially cut production by 180,000 barrels per day in December.

Nigeria is the biggest oil producer in Africa with a daily output of 2.5 million barrels, while Shell accounts for half of the country's oil production, but the situation in the country's oil regions in the south is turbulent.

Local villagers frequently shut off oil wells, kidnap oil workers or commit other forms of violence to blackmail companies operating in the oil fields as they accuse oil firms of not doing anything to develop the impoverished area.

Source: Xinhua

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