Nigerian oil under siege
Nearly 400 workers, including 17 Americans, are being held on oil rigs in the Gulf of Guinea.
An e-mail diary, written by a hostage on an oil rig off the Nigerian coast, gives an unusually detailed insight into the latest trouble to hit the oil industry in the restive Niger Delta region. The journal charts how a strike protesting, in part, the firing of five Nigerian oil workers has evolved into a siege trapping hundreds of employees, including almost 100 foreigners, on four offshore oil rigs.Skip to next paragraph
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"Emotions on the rig are high and have been for a week already," reads one entry dated April 25. The writer foresees "big trouble" if Transocean, the US company that owns the rigs, decides to use armed force to implement a court injunction to stop the siege.
The crisis is the latest in a series of blows to the oil industry in Nigeria. Multinationals working in the country, the fifth-largest source of US oil imports, have faced a series of problems over the past few months with theft of oil, political instability, and social unrest resulting in sabotage or occupation of facilities.
But even as oil exploration and production moves into the vast crude reserves in the Gulf of Guinea and farther from the unrest on land, experts say this latest crisis demonstrates that, only by giving a higher priority to improving relationships with both their staff and the communities in which they operate, can oil companies hope to put these problems behind them permanently.
"I have been urging the Nigerian workers to leave [the rigs] as peacefully and as quickly as possible," says Jake Molloy, general secretary of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, a trade union based in Britain. "And I would hope and implore Transocean to meet these guys on their return, sit them down, and address their issues in a constructive and amicable fashion."
The action on the Transocean rigs, which began on April 16, has attracted worldwide attention because it has trapped an estimated 17 US workers, 35 Britons, and more than 40 other foreigners, as well as almost 300 Nigerians. The company says the atmosphere aboard the rigs is calm, despite reports of threats against some of the hostages and the mobilization of the Nigerian Navy into the area. The Offshore Industry Liaison Committee says it has had no contact from the rigs since early this week, although it has heard from women whose husbands are aboard and have been in touch by satellite phone to confirm they are safe.
The Transocean dispute is just one of a range of security problems facing the industry in Nigeria. In its annual People and the Environment report, published this week, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria, the country's largest producer, highlighted the growing problem of oil theft, known as "bunkering." Shell said it lost about 6 million barrels last year to criminals who had reached "new levels of sophistication" to siphon crude from pipelines. The company added that the amount of production it deferred due to sabotage and community disturbances rose 12.6 percent to 39.4 million barrels, although it pointed to a "welcome reduction" in the number of incidents involving hostage-taking from 45 in 2001 to 24 last year.