Thursday, January 19, 2006

Chevron Suspends Work In Niger Delta; U.S. Marines To Deploy?

Just as its first drill sank into the Joint Development Zone's mile deep Block 1, Chevron said it would suspend drilling and other axctivities in the oil-rich Niger Delta until some semblance of order is restored to a region where dozens have died in recent days and what appears to be a full-scale rebellion is growing.

The Guardian of Nigeria reports in Thursday's editions that Chevron was angered by the refusal of Nigerian troops to escort vessels carrying food and other essentials to ships offshore where worked are running low on supplies.

A second story in the Daily Independent, which relies on statements from the disgraced ex-governor of Bayelsa State whose cause has been taken up by some of the rebel militias but who says they are not acting on his behalf, says a secret agreement to which he became privy permits U.S. Marines to provide protection for U.S. oil interests there. The Independent story echoes our own concern about a U.S. role in the fighting in the Niger Delta, but ex-Bayelsa State Gov. Diepreye Alamieyesegha cannot be considered a reliable source, and even the Independent quesrtions his facts.

An interesting development is that the name of the group associated with the kidnappings of four oil workers, including a Briton and an American, from Royal Dutch Shell Sea Eagle (Beneside) rig in the East Area field, has a new name that would seem to better reflect Muslim credentials than the previous acronym MEND, as the group was formerly known. The new name is the Martyrs Brigade.
Meanwhile, the four workers have reported that they are well but have warned against an attack on the ship where they are apparently being held.

Both articles appear below. Here is the more reliable Guardian story first:

Chevron may suspend work in Niger Delta
From Chido Okafor (Warri), Taiwo Hassan and Sulaimon Salau (Lagos)

THE heightening tension in the Niger Delta may force ChevronTexaco Nigeria Limited to temporarily suspend its operations in the region.

The Guardian learnt yesterday from a senior official of the oil firm that the continued refusal of military personnel to accompany Chevron vessels carrying food and other supplies to their off-shore workers may force the oil firm to shut down its operations.

Chevron vessels reportedly loaded with supplies for the company's off-shore workers were still said to queue up at the firm's Warri base jetty.

Their crews did not want to risk their lives piloting the vessels in the waterways unescorted.

It was learnt that the military authorities in Warri had refused to provide escorts to the vessels because they do not have enough men to give out since many of the soldiers have been deployed to new assignments in Bayelsa State due to the growing insecurity in the area.

Military authorities may also be protecting their men especially with the reported casualties they have suffered in gun duels with militants.

Meanwhile, Ogbotobo in Bayelsa State yesterday condemned the military invasion of the community. According to the community's chairman, Geoffrey Seletoru Bomiegha, soldiers have been intimidating them.

Bomiegha insisted on the clean-up of the oil spill from its ruptured Brass Creek Manifold allegedly destroyed by militant youths.

Besides, the International Energy Agency (IEA) , an inter-governmental body committed to advancing security of energy supply, economic growth and environmental sustainability through energy policy co-operation, has said it is keeping close watch on developments in the Niger Delta.

"We're monitoring the situation," said Lawrence Eagles, head of the IEA's oil industry and markets division. But he noted that "this is a relatively small amount of capacity that has come offline for a small period of time."

Also, the Royal Dutch oil company, Shell Petroleum Development Company Limited (SPDC) has reiterated that it will continue to co-operate with the Nigerian authorities on ways to secure the release of the four workers held hostage.

A statement by the company's External Affairs Manager, Mr. Donald Boham, indicated that despite the spate of attacks, the company would seek the Federal Government's assistance.

He said: "We will continue to co-operate with the authorities for the safe release of those held hostage. We will continue to keep staff deployment in the Western Niger Delta under close review. As we said previously, the safety of our staff, contractors and the communities in which we operate is our top priority and we will deploy staff as conditions dictate. We will also return to areas evacuated."

Agip's External Affairs Manager, Mr. Akin Anuwasoye, said that his company has not been attacked.

Total's spokesman, Mr. Fred Ohwahwa also said: "Nothing has happened to any of our facilities."

Here is the Independent story, much of which shouold be treated warily:

Niger Delta: U.S. May Delay Troops Deployment

Thursday 19th January, 2006

•Militant group warns of more bloodshed
•Soldiers shun escort duty

By Chinedu Offor (Washington)
Francis Onoiribholo (Warri) and Odudu Okpongete (Port Harcourt)

Armed conflict in the Niger Delta may stalk plans to deploy American marines to the region, military officials have said in Washington.

Pentagon sources confirmed that officials are reviewing an agreement with Nigeria that would have marines protect oil facilities because of the growing battle between Nigerian armed forces and insurgents.

The escalation of conflict causes worry in the administration because of the importance of Nigeria as a source of oil for the U.S.

Insiders said the government is reducing its reliance on Middle East supplies.

Nigeria is the third major oil supplier to the U.S and there are widespread fears that the fighting will push up the cost of heating, especially during this winter.

But other sources said the Niger Delta is rather too unstable to deploy marines.

"We do not want our forces to be directly involved in the military operation currently being undertaken by Nigerian forces. Subject to further discussions with Nigerian officials, the marines will only go in when the intensity of the conflict has reduced significantly", Pentagon officials said.

They recalled that the issue was discussed at a meeting between President Olusegun Obasanjo and security chiefs in Abuja.

Marines are better trained and equipped to tackle security in Nigeria’s South South but Washington is wary of being accused of "engaging in military conflict without the authorisation of Congress".

The formerly classified discussion between Abuja and Washington on the deployment was revealed by impeached Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyesegha, in Yenagoa last year at a meeting with stakeholders in the oil industry.

He said the Nigerian authorities were under pressure to deploy marines to protect American oil companies.

The forum was attended by Science and Technology Minister, Touner Isoun, Transport Minister, Abiye Sekibo, Police Affairs Minister, Broderick Bozimo and Ijaw National Congress President, Kimse Okoko.

Meanwhile, Nigerian military personnel have shunned request by Chevron to escort food stuff and other materials to their flows stations.

The company’s workers are fast running out of food. Yet its efforts to persuade the security men to escort boats carrying materials through the water ways fell on deaf ears. The soldiers claim shortage of personnel.

No fewer than 30 soldiers have been reportedly killed in the latest confrontation with Ijaw youths.

Chevron may be forced to shut down its flow-stations due to lack of food and other essential supplies to its workers in the field.

Several speed boats loaded with the materials are stranded at its jetty in Warri.

Chevron is the second largest oil company in Nigeria after Shell.

On Tuesday, a militant group in the Niger Delta known as the Martyrs Brigade said it has entered into a war alliance with another group, Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), to fight against injustice in the region.

The group in a statement in Port Harcourt, signed by its spokesperson, Cynthia Whyte, claimed that the Movement has about 4,223 men to prosecute the battle. The group is believed to be responsible for the abduction of expatriate oil workers in Bayelsa State.

The group, which spoke against the backdrop of the resumption of the trial of the detained leader of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, Mujahideen Dokubo-Asari, warned that the time for pleading for his release is over, adding that they are now prepared to strike.

According to the militant group, they are not disturbed whether a new judge would be quickly conscripted from Maiduguri, Lagos, Sokoto or Ibadan to replace the one earlier brought in from Benin to fix the job, warning that the abuse of judicial process by the Federal Government would be challenged.

The statement added: “By now, they would have realised that the time for talk, talk, and talk is over! Now it is time for bang, bang, and bang!! We will hit them and smoke them out from every corner of our fatherland. We will not spare them.

“Our rivers will be reddened with their blood. Our fishes and birds of the air will feast on their flesh. If they attempt any Odi or Odioma-style invasion, we will not sit idly by. We will give to them the way they have given to us”.

The group said it had earlier warned “the imperialist collaborators of the Nigerian state” to leave the Niger Delta but they chose to remain believing that they would be protected by federal troops.

“This is only the beginning of the beginning. The next phase of this onslaught shall be the end of the beginning of the beginning. Then, we shall take the battle down to the corridors of our enemies. Our mandate is to rid the region of occupation forces.

“We are not rivals but compatriots and pathfinders of a new Niger Delta history”.

The group urged market women, unemployed and employed youths to join in the struggle until their “enemies” flee the land.

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