May 3, 2007 / 11:00 AM / 10 years ago

Gunmen kidnap 18 foreign workers in Nigeria

LAGOS (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen have kidnapped 18 foreign workers in three attacks in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta region, authorities said on Thursday.

Three Koreans and eight Filipinos were abducted from a power plant construction site in Rivers State, while six foreigners of unknown nationality were seized from an Italian-operated offshore oilfield.

Diplomats said a Dutch man was also seized from a bar on the outskirts of Warri on Wednesday night, taking the total number of foreigners kidnapped in the region since Tuesday to 24.

The seizures are the latest in a series of militant raids on Western oil facilities since February last year that has led to oil output being reduced by 600,000 barrels per day, or a fifth of production capacity.

It was not immediately clear if Saipem and SBM Offshore, the operators of the 50,000 barrel-per-day Okono/Okpoho oilfield, shut off oil production because of the attack.

Saipem parent company Eni confirmed hostages were taken from the facility, but did not specify how many. Security sources in Nigeria said there were six.

The three Koreans taken in the power plant attack were senior managers of industrial conglomerate Daewoo who had just arrived in Nigeria, a security source in Nigeria said.

A Daewoo Engineering & Construction official confirmed the abductees were their contract workers and said their condition was not immediately known.

Diplomats said no one was injured in that abduction, although it was accompanied by heavy gunfire.

CRIME WAVE

Kidnappings of foreigners have increased sharply in the past 12 months in the world's eighth largest oil exporter, where militancy is fuelled by poverty, lawlessness, corruption and struggles for control of a lucrative oil theft business.

The oilfield attack was the second time foreigners have been abducted from that facility, an oil production vessel named Mystras.

Seven foreign workers were taken in November, including one Briton who was killed by Nigerian soldiers when they opened fire as the kidnappers were making their escape.

The facility, located 34 miles off the coast of the Niger Delta, is a Floating Production, Storage and Offloading vessel, a stationary tanker with crude oil and gas processing facilities built on top and a loading buoy attached.

Thursday's attacks come two days after militants belonging to the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) kidnapped six foreign oil workers from an offshore oilfield operated by Chevron.

MEND said those kidnappings were to serve as a disclaimer to reports that it was in support of Nigeria's president-elect Umaru Yar'Adua and his deputy Goodluck Jonathan, who is also the governor of Bayelsa state.

MEND masterminded the attacks in February 2006 that shut 600,000 barrels per day of oil production, mostly operated by Royal Dutch Shell.

Shell said on Thursday it was preparing to restart those oilfields, despite MEND's warnings not to.

MEND says it is fighting for more regional control over the delta's oil wealth, freedom for two jailed leaders from the region and compensation for decades of oil pollution.

But the lines between militancy and crime are blurred in the delta, a vast wetlands in the south of Nigeria that is home to all the OPEC member nation's oil wealth.

Diplomats said the Asians taken on Thursday were probably abducted by ransom seekers.

Additional reporting by Jack Kim, Jessica Kim in Seoul

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