Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nigerian militants step up 'oil war' claiming sixth attack

Agence France-Presse
September 20, 2008
LAGOS (AFP) - Militants in Nigeria said Saturday they had destroyed a pipeline run by Royal Dutch Shell in the sixth attack of a declared "oil war," with the armed group vowing to reduce oil exports to "zero."

Shell reacted by declaring force majeure on its exports from the Bonny terminal to release it from contractual delivery obligations as a result of the latest attacks.

The Bonny terminal was already under force majeure since July 29, but "we made another declaration as a result of production losses caused by the recent attacks on our facilities," a Shell spokeswoman in London told AFP.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta ( MEND ), the main group fighting for a greater share of southern Nigeria's oil wealth for local people, said it had destroyed the "major pipeline" in Rivers state late Friday.

MEND said the pipeline was located at Buguma Front in the Asari Toru region and was the latest target of the "oil war" the armed group launched on Sunday and has dubbed "Hurricane Barbarossa."

"The military and the government of Nigeria whose unprovoked attack on our position prompted this oil war are no match for a guerrilla insurgency of this kind," MEND said in an email to AFP.

MEND promised to "continue to nibble every day at the oil infrastructure in Nigeria until the oil exports reach zero." Oil and gas account for 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation with 140 million people.

Production currently ranges between 1.8 million and two million barrels per day compared with 2.6 million bpd two years ago.

Earlier in the week, Shell confirmed the first attack on its Alakiri flow station and a second one on the Greater Port Harcourt Swamp Line, both on Monday.

But as the week went on, Shell became progressively more tight-lipped, neither confirming nor denying claims of attacks on its Orubiri flow station, Rumuekpe pipeline and another pipeline at the Elem-Kalabari Cawthorne Channel axis in Rivers state.

The Anglo-Dutch oil company evacuated more than 100 employees as a precaution at the beginning of the week, according to a source in the oil sector.

The army and MEND have given conflicting versions of many of the incidents, MEND normally saying attacks were successful but the army saying they were repelled.

To further combat the violence in Nigeria's oil region, the government on September 10 announced it would create a ministry specifically responsible for maintaining calm and developing the Niger Delta.

MEND charges that the oil wealth of Nigeria -- now Africa's second largest petroleum exporter after recently losing first place to Angola -- is basically enjoyed by the federal government and only a fraction of it trickles down to the locals.

It also accuses oil companies of wreaking havoc on the environment.

MEND spokesman Jomo Gbomo on Saturday claimed to have grassroots support.

"The impoverished and neglected inhabitants of oil-producing communities consider our actions to these structures as good riddance to bad rubbish," he said.

"Oil exploration has brought only pain to them by way of environmental damage (farmlands, fishing and wildlife sanctuaries), harassment from the military and rape of under-aged girls by soldiers, extra-judicial killings of young men and development and wealth to other parts of the country at their detriment."

MEND presents its members as the champions of the region's Ijaw people, an ethnic group of some 14 million. It says its enemies are not Nigerian soldiers but rather the Nigerian federal government and the foreign oil companies such as Shell, Chevron and Agip.

But no one knows exactly who is behind the armed group and financing its operations, nor how many fighters are in its forces.

MEND has also warned it will attack the country's two big deep offshore fields, Shell's Bonga -- which was hit in June -- and Chevron's Agbami, as well as oil and gas tankers in Nigerian waters.