Monday, January 16, 2006

At Least 14 Killed In Shell Attack; Guardian Story Adds Details, Links MEND To Attacks; Says Americans And Britons Are Targets

Remembering that the war in Vietnam began when, according to reports that later proved false, a U.S. patrol boat was attacked by a North Vietnamese boat in the Gulf of Tonkin, and that false reports saying Cubans had sunk the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor precipitated the Spanish-American War, we feel great trepidation in reporting on the "unknown" attackers who have recently besieged the Royal Dutch Shell facilities and its Sea Egle rig in the East Area field of the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria.

Here is an excellent, well-disciplined account of the latest crisis from Punch of Nigeria, the best so far available:

10 killed as gunmen invade Shell flow station
Sola Adebayo, Bisi Olaniyi and Clara Nwachukwu

The fragile peace in the Niger Delta snapped again on Sunday, as unidentified youths killed no fewer than 10 persons, including soldiers of the Joint Task Force in the region, code-named “Operation Restore Hope.”

The youth were said to have opened fire on the people at the Benisede Flow Station of the Shell Petroleum Development Company, in Bayelsa State.

Nine others sustained varying degrees of injuries in the incident.

Our correspondents learnt that the youth, who were armed with sophisticated weapons, stormed the flow station at 7am.

Using dynamite, the youth reportedly blew up the flow station and the houseboat, which served as the abode of soldiers and oil workers.

The attackers, according to our source, fled the scene.

The incident caused a panic among security operatives in Delta and Bayelsa states.

A senior army officer described the extent of damage to lives and property in the incident as “serious.”

Findings by our correspondents revealed that the remains of the fallen soldiers and oil workers littered the scene on Sunday morning.

The Commander of JTF, Brig. Gen. Elias Zamani, later dispatched a team to evacuate the bodies.

An Agusta helicopter of the Nigerian Navy over flew the scene at about 9:00am.

A member of the naval team confided in our correspondents that five soldiers died in the incident while nine persons sustained serious injuries.

The flow station was located in Ekeremoh Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.

It was one of the four flow stations shut down by the management of Shell on Thursday, following the attack on its flow line, identified as Trans Ramos Pipeline at Brass Creek Manifold in Bayelsa State.

Shell, in a statement on Sunday, said that although there were unconfirmed fatalities and missing persons, “some 42 SPDC contractors and staff were at the Benisede flow station at the time of the attack.

“The attackers invaded the flow station in speed boats, burnt down two staff accommodation (units), damaged the processing facilities and left.”

It added that all the injured persons had been moved to Warri, Delta State, for proper medical attention.

Although no official number of casualties was given, reports said that Shell confirmed that five of its staff had been injured and evacuated to Warri, while a witness said that he had seen at least, three troops shot and injured.

Following the growing insecurity in the area, the Anglo Dutch oil giant has commenced evacuation of personnel on duty from Benisede, and neighbouring flow stations including Opukushi, Ogbotobo and Tunu.

Shell said that all four flow stations had been shut as a result of the vandalisation of the Trans Ramos pipeline on Thursday.

The shutdown will lead to a loss of 106,000 barrels daily.

Sunday’s incident occurred barely four days after four expatriates oil workers working at the AE Fields of the Shell Nigeria Exploration and Production Company, were kidnapped by some persons in the area.

The kidnap led to another 120,000 bpd shut in of crude production.

Agency reports indicated that security operatives have, however, uncovered the whereabouts of those abducted.

The Chief of Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Gani Adekeye, said, “We know where they are and we are aware they are safe.

“We also have reasonably good information and data on the people who carried out the action.”

A spokesman for the Bayelsa State Government, where the kidnapping took place, Mr. Ekiyor Conrad Welson, said a team was dispatched to contact the kidnappers and find out what their grievances and demands were.

According to him, “We hear that the hostages are being held off the coast.”

The SPDC’s External Relations Manager, Western Division, Mr. Harriman Oyofo, confirmed the incident in a telephone interview with our correspondents.

Oyofo, however, said details of the incident were sketchy and asked our correspondents to contact the JTF for further inquiries.

He said, “All that I can tell you now is that Benisede Flow station was attacked this morning by some unknown persons, but if you want more information, you can contact the JTF.”

Oyofo’s colleague for the West, Chief Charles Akeni, also said that no reason had been given on this recent attack, while “Government security agencies have been contacted to assist in securing all SPDC facilities and to secure law and order in the area.”

Benisede is a riverside pumping station, which gathers crude oil from a network of wells in swampland around the Bomadi Creek, part of the Niger Delta which is 300 kilometres (185 miles) South-East of Lagos.

Zamani, who confirmed the report, said a team had been dispatched to the scene.

He said, “I am aware of the attack on Benisede Flow Station, and we are investigating it. My men have gone there to assess the situation and report immediately.”

Incidentally, this year marks the 50th year that Shell discovered oil in commercial quantity in Oloibiri, in the same state.

Both the kidnapping and the pipeline blast have been claimed by a previously unknown separatist group dubbed, the “Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta,” which seeks independence for the region’s 14-million-strong Ijaw people.

The group has demanded the release of two local champions, including Ijaw guerrilla leader, Mujahid Dokubo Asari, and warned in an e-mail statement: “We are capable and determined to destroy the ability of Nigeria to export oil.”

Asari declared a ceasefire in August 2004, but vowed to win Ijaw independence and control over the Delta’s oil through political agitation.

He was arrested last year after threatening to tear Nigeria apart and will appear in court on Tuesday charged with treason. Asari’s lawyer, Uche Okwukwu, insists his group has no link with the recent attacks.

But the supporters of the detained leader of the Niger Delta Peoples Volunteer Force, Alhaji Muhajid Asari Dokubo, on Sunday dissociated themselves from the kidnap of four expatriate oil workers in Bayelsa State.

At a press briefing in Port Harcourt, the Secretary of the NDPVF, Mr. Odum James, said the group and Dokubo had nothing to do with the kidnap of the oil workers.

James said, “We, the members of the NDPVF have no knowledge whatsoever concerning the destruction of oil installations in the region and the kidnapping of persons. We are also not in support of such acts.”

On his part, the Governor of Bayelsa State, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, on Sunday said the military may take over Ekeremor local government area of the state, in line with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Speaking at the Government House, Yenagoa, during a reception for legionnaires as part of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration, wondered why militant youths kidnapped the four expatriate oil workers of Snepco, a sister company of Shell.

Jonathan also said he got a report Sunday afternoon that another set of yet-to-be-identified youths had taken over SPDC’s Benisede Flow Station in the same Ekeremor council.

He said, “Let us meet with our people, to ensure that our communities and LGAs are not turned to sanctuaries of criminals and hoodlums. We do not want Bayelsa waterways to be taken over by criminals.

“The military may also take over the waterways for the state to function. Everybody knows the implication of the Federal Government taking over the trouble spots or LGAs.”

The PUNCH, Monday, January 16, 2006

Who's Really Behind These Attacks?

We caution our readers that both Chinese and American forces are prepared under freshly-minted agreements to engage marauders on Nigeria's behalf if asked - and that both countries would probably like to be asked to play a significant role in defending what is hoped will become America's non-Middle Eastern crude oil supply of choice in coming decades.

In any case, if a war is brewing in Nigeria - civil, guerilla or otherwise - the price of oil and existing strategic plans will change dramatically.

The situation in Nigeria is very near a critical point, in that while the loss of life is so far extremely low, the cost of the attacks is extremely high - about $15 million a day, just for Shell.

The political and military agitation in Nigeria is absolutely consistent with the histories of both China and the United States in Third World countries. The circumstances that usually precede our military involvement in a crisis-torn nation can begin with attacks on U.S. nationals and high-profile facilities, diplomatic provocations and a strain on economic ties; all are present in U.S. Nigerian relations now, thanks to the influence of oil giants on the Bush administration's Nigeria policy.

Either China or the United States could surreptitiously be behind the attacks, directly or indirectly, as history proves. We don't think they are, but we feel a need to caution our readers that they could be, if only because they have been in the past.

Undoubtedly, the counter-argument would be that our ships and state visitors are in Nigeria today because there is a perceived security need that Nigeria can't meet alone and which left unchecked would compromise our energy supply and thus our economuy and "national security." China could say exactly the same, and both statements could well be true.

The following article from the Guardian of Nigeria offers better insights than most into the identities and motives of the attackers. It refers to them as "the boys," meaning the huge street gangs that actually form semi-formal fighting units, well-equipped with the latest arms and very fast boats, that primarily support efforts to steal an estimated 100,000 barrels of crude oil each day in Nigeria. The income from that theft is in the millions - and it happens every day.

The Guardian article, and one from ThisDay Online that follows it, offer the best insights available right now. We urge readers to keep their eyes open, their wallets ready, and their guns at hand.

Militants attack another Shell platform, torch house boats
Governor threatens to invite military

From Chido Okafor, (Warri),
Willie Etim (Yanegoa) and
Kelven Ebiri, (Port Hacourt)

FOR the third time in less than one week, armed men yesterday attacked oil installations at the Benisede Flowstation of Shell in the Ekeremer Local Council of Bayelsa State.

In apparent exasperation, the state governor Jonathan Goodluck has threatened to seek military assistance from Federal authorities over the spate of attacks by the militants.

A hitherto unknown group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), had last Thursday claimed responsibility for the two attacks last week.

The group demanded the release of the former Bayelsa State governor, Chief Diepreye Alamieyeseigha and the leader of the Niger Delta People's Volunteer Force (NDPVF), Alhaji Mujahideen Dokubo-Asari.

Alamieyeseigha is facing trial for alleged money laundering offences while Dokunbo-Asari, who is alleged to espouse secessionist agenda has been charged with treason. But his group last night distanced itself from the upsurge in attacks on oil installations.

Shell's Acting External Affairs Manager (West) Charles Akeni said there were "unconfirmed fatalities and missing persons."

The attackers, it was learnt arrived at the flowstation in speed boats and forcibly seized the flowstation.

They burnt down two house boats and extensively damaged process facilities.

Said Akeni: "Following the growing insecurity in the area, Shell has commenced evacuation of the personnel on duty from Benisede, and neighbouring flowstations, that is Opukushi, Ogbotobo and Tunu, all in Bayelsa State".

The Guardian learnt that the government and security agencies had been contacted by the oil firm to assist in securing all Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) facilities and to restore law and order in the area.

Forty-two Shell employees were said to be on duty at Benisede flowstation when it was attacked.

The injured persons have been moved to Warri for proper medical attention, it was gathered.

Troops exchanged fire with the attackers who stormed the oil flowstation in six boats.

Some soldiers were killed, industry, military and diplomatic sources said.

"There was an attack. There was a fight there, an exchange of fire," Brig-Gen. Elias Zamani, who heads a military task force in the southern Delta, told Reuters by telephone.

He did not say if anyone was killed, but another military official and a diplomat said some soldiers had died.

A Shell spokesman said oil output was unaffected because Benisede was one of four flowstations closed last Wednesday after militants blew up a major oil export pipeline.

But the attack may delay repairs to the 100,000 barrel-a-day Trans-Ramos pipeline, which had been expected to resume pumping to the Forcados Tanker Terminal either today or tomorrow, a senior industry source said.

"This incident may delay repair work on the pipeline. So it may mean a prolonged outage," the official told Reuters, adding that workers were likely to be evacuated from the affected area.

The firefight occurred as a team of government negotiators began talking to militants holding four foreign oil workers hostage after abducting them from an offshore oilfield operated by Shell on Wednesday.

The contract workers an American, Briton, Bulgarian and Honduran were being held in the Agoro District of Bayelsa State.

Governor Goodluck ordered his deputy, who hails from the region of mangrove swamps and tidal creeks, to lead a team there to help secure their release.

"Any community that allows its land to be used by criminals will be sanctioned and the military may be deployed to that place," government spokesman Ekiyor Conrad Welson quoted the governor as saying.

"We are hopeful that within two days we should be able to sort out the situation," he added.

Colleagues of the captive workers said they feared a heavy-handed military response could endanger their lives.

"With the human shield the militants have, such a high-handed approach could lead to disaster," said one.

Recent attacks and kidnappings appear to be co-ordinated by the militant group with up to 500 members, which has demanded a greater share of oil revenue for the Delta region and the release of two ethnic Ijaw leaders, a diplomat said.

In an e-mail statement on Thursday last week, the MEND, said all westerners, especially Britons and Americans, were legitimate targets. It said it was not interested in a ransom and threatened more attacks on Nigeria's oil industry.

"We are capable and determined to destroy the ability of Nigeria to export oil," the statement said.

Following the news of the fresh attack still in the Ekeremor area, governor Jonathan has said that the state government might be compel to plead with the Federal Government to take over that area of the state.

The attack, which took place early yesterday is coming barely four days after the kidnapping of the oil workers and the destruction of oil installation by the faceless group which called itself MEND.

Jonathan who disclosed the news of the fresh attack at a luncheon organised to mark the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebration in Government House, Yenagoa, appealed that Bayelsa should not be made a sanctuary of criminals.

"If it has come to a point where we can not move freely in our creeks, then there is problem," he said.

According to the governor, "some youths do things without thinking," and there "is no way government will fold it arms, watch criminals destabilised the state".

Jonathan, who particularly challenged his deputy. Peremowei Ebebi, who is from the area to lead a delegation to sort things out, said: "If they are trying to use Ekeremor to destabilise the state, then the indigenes of the place must come together to stop it. My deputy must lead a delegation to that area".

But Dokubo-Asari's NDPVF has solicited the immediate release of the four expatriate oil workers held hostage since last Wednesday for peace to reign in the Niger Delta.

The group, which denied knowledge of the kidnapping of the four expatriates and the recent destruction of oil installations in parts of the Niger Delta, warned that its leader should not be cited for the hostage taking as this capable of jeopardising the Ijaw struggle.

Briefing journalists at the Presidential Hotel in Port Harcourt yesterday, the group's scribe, Odum James explained that the destruction of lives and property as well as the kidnapping of persons were not part of the Ijaw struggle for an equitable Nigerian state. He attributed such callous acts to the Nigerian government, which he accused of inflicting violence on Odi and Odiama.

Distancing Dokubo-Asari's group from the MEND, James said there was no way his group would support such action that was capable of aggravating its leader's predicament.

"The NDPVF will not and would not get itself involved in that type of action because we believe that the leader of the group is still being held somewhere. By doing so will not help our cause, we will not be promoting the ideals and ideology of our organisation," he said.

James, who called on the government to address the Niger Delta question, however, noted that a people who were oppressed, marginalised and deprived of the full benefits of their natural resources might be forced to take drastic actions to attract the world's attention to their plight. He added that it was time the government applied wisdom to the issues affecting the people of the oil producing states.

James urged the Federal Government to immediately release Dokubo-Asari, noting that the detention of the NDPVF leader had infuriated a lot of people in the Niger Delta who suspect that the arrest was basically political. He added that if the government fail to release Dokubo-Asari, it would be pushing his teeming supporters to the wall.

James asked if Dokubo-Asari's agitation for an equitable Nigeria was right or wrong. According to him, because of the indescribable sufferings in the Niger Delta, it would be impossible for everyone to remain mute. He then called on the government to ensure that justice prevailed in the nation.

"When somebody is oppressed, when somebody is marginalised, when somebody is being deprived of what belongs to him, then he will fight back. We are talking about aggrieved people and they can do anything in order to alert the world of what they are passing through because the government does not want to care for them," James added.

Here is the article from ThisDay Online:
14 Soldiers Killed in Niger Delta Shoot-outFrom Segun James in Warri, 01.16.2006

Fourteen soldiers guarding an oil facility in Delta State were early yesterday feared killed and several others wounded when dare-devil gun men attacked the Benisede Flow station belonging to the Shell Petroleum Development Company.
This comes on the heels of the condemnation by the Bayelsa State government of the recent abduction of four expatriate staff of an oil servicing company in the Niger Delta.

Although it could not be confirmed if any oil worker was killed in the early morning surprise attack on the facility, THISDAY gathered that the assailants first attacked and destroyed the House Boat where the soldiers stayed and proceeded to plant dynamites around the flow station which was later blown up.

Following the surprise attack which is coming on the heels of the kidnap of four expatriate oil workers at another Shell facility last week, there were plans last night for massive deployment of troops in the area which is on the fringe of the Atlantic Ocean.

It would also be recalled that some persons attacked the Trans Ramos pipelines in Brass Creeks last week.
The attack on the particular pipelines forced Shell to close the blown four flow stations from which they garnered over 106,000 barrels of oil per day before yesterday's attack.

Confirming the attack on Benisede, the Commander of the Joint Task Force (JTF) in the Niger Delta, Operation Restore Hope, Brig. Gen. Elias Zamani, said he would not speak on the casualty figure until the men he deployed to evacuate the victims returned to base.

Also confirming the incident, Shell's External Affairs Manager, Western Division, Mr. Harriman Oyofo, said that the flow station was damaged beyond repairs.
Meanwhile, the Bayelsa State government has condemned in its entirety the recent abduction of four expatriate staff of an oil servicing company in the Niger Delta.
The government also condemned the vandalism of the Trans-Ramos pipeline belonging to the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).

In a statement signed by the press secretary to the state deputy governor, Mr Charles Tambou, the government said it was wrong for youths to take expatriate workers of major oil companies hostages.

The government said the youth should rather make their grievances known to the appropriate authorities, dialogue with them with a view to resolving such issues.
The statement said that hostage taking by suspected pirates was not the best way to solve the problems of the Niger Delta.

"We cannot win when we fight always before dialoguing. Those who have genuine grievances should come forward and dialogue with government and the oil companies involved," it said.

On the attack on the Trans-Ramos pipeline, the statement urged the youths to realise that apart from the negative economic implications, the effects on "our eco-system and the lives of the people is so much that we are inflicting economic and social wounds on ourselves".

It further stated that the Bayelsa State Government, in concert with federal agencies and other bodies was working round the clock to secure the release of the hostages.

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