Thursday, February 16, 2006

Punch Tells Of Horrific Destruction As Nigeria Takes On Oil Smugglers

A series of miles-long pipeline explosions that allegedly resulted from a Nigerian Army attack on 10 oil-smuggling barges that blew up and ignited the pipelines was described in detail this morning by The Punch of Nigeria, and several other reports confirm the information.

The destruction again accented the relative safety of oil-rich blocks of the Nigeria-Sao Tome and Principe Joint Development Zone, where ERHC Energy has won significant equity, as compared to onshore operations.

Royal Dutch Shell quickly put out a statement to the Daily Independent denying claims by militants that its airport facilities were use to mount the ferocious attack:

Shell Debunks Allegations Of Attack On Militants

Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) on Wednesday denied allegations by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) that the military choppers belonging to the Joint Task Force (JFT) on security in the Niger Delta used its Osubi Airport to launch attacks on private facilities in Warri, Delta State.

A company spokesman said in a text message that the JTF helicopter, during their routine surveillance in the area, sighted some illegal oil bunkering barges and decided to destroy them.

He did not, however, give details but it was gathered that since Tuesday’s ultimatum by MEND which gave multinational oil workers 96 hours to vacate the Niger Delta region, the Federal Government’s security outfit has resolved not to leave any thing to chance to avoid being taken unawares by the militants as was the case in the past.

According to the late-breaking story in Punch dated Feb. 16, "kilometres of pipelines" used by major multinationals to send their freshly-drilled crude to refineries for processing or transport were destroyed after a helicopter gunship attacked the barges as they prepared to make off with oil stolen from the pipelines.

From the scale of the destruction described by the daily Punch, it appears there may be a major interruption of oil supplies from Nigeria in coming days.

Meanwhile, the paper was told by a Nigerian official that the action was aimed at "teaching a lesson" to the ethnic militants who kidnapped four foreigners from a Royal Dutch Shell rig offshore Bayelsa State in the oil-rich Niger Delta. If so, it will be a costly lesson indeed, but perhaps far less so to the militants and smugglers than to the multinationals and the world that needs their oil.

Here is the Punch story:

Oil pipelines explode as task force shoots smugglers

Sola Adebayo, Warri

Explosions rocked oil pipelines belonging to yet-to-be ascertained oil multinationals in Delta State, on Wednesday in the aftermath of a military operation at Okerenkoko in Gbaramatu clan of Warri South West Local Government Area of the state.

Our correspondent learnt that fire was still raging in the area as at last night.

It was gathered that the inferno had ravaged an unspecified kilometres of the oil flow lines.

Findings by our correspondent revealed that the explosion resulted from the shooting of wares of illegal oil bunkering from a military aircraft of the Joint Task Force in the Niger Delta, code-named ‘Operation Restore Hope’.

It was gathered that a helicopter gunship marked M135, on the fleet of the JTF, carried out the operation.

A source in the JTF informed our correspondent that a patrol team of security outfit sighted 10 ocean-going barges assembled by illegal oil dealers at Okerenkoko River on Tuesday night.

It was learnt that the pilot of the aircraft on routine aerial surveillance of the Niger Delta region, quickly returned to Warri to inform the Commander of the JTF, Brig. Gen. Elias Zamani, of his finding.

Zamani reportedly contacted the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, who directed him to deploy an helicopter gunboat to destroy the barges.

The helicopter gunship took off from the Osubi Airstrip of Shell Petroleum Development Company for the assignment in the early hours of Wednesday.

It was gathered that the aircraft allegedly bombed the barges said to contain stolen crude oil, thus leading to an explosion.

A soldier who took part in the exercise told our correspondent that the fire from the barges later spread to adjoining pipelines conveying crude oil from field locations of the oil multinationals to export loading terminals.

The source said the flow lines were still on fire as at 6:30pm on Wednesday.

Many kilometres of the oil pipelines have been ravaged, a development which informed the deployment of fire fighters in the scene to curtail its spread at 6:45pm.

Initial reports had, however, indicated that the troops bombed the dreaded Okerenkoko Community, regarded as the headquarters of the Ijaw struggle in the Niger Delta region.

The JTF had contemplated invading the area in January, following a report that four abducted expatriate oil workers were being kept in the community.

The Public Relation Officer of JTF, Major Said Hammed, confirmed the report in a telephone interview with our correspondent, on Wednesday.

Hammed said the action was taken to serve as a deterent to others who may be planning to indulge in the unwholesome act in the future.

The PUNCH, Thursday, February 16, 2006

Here is a second story on the bttle, thi one from the daily Vanguard of Nigeria:
8 killed as Navy attacks oil bunkerers

By Simon Ebegbulem & Paul Bebenimibo with agency reports
Posted to the Web: Thursday, February 16, 2006

WARRI— EIGHT persons were feared dead yesterday while about 10 houses were burnt after a military helicopter gunship fired on several barges being used by illegal oil bunkerers at Perezouweikore-gbere, an Ijaw community in the Warri South local government area of Delta State.

However, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) denounced the attack, saying the military targeted civilians. It vowed to shut down the oil industry in revenge.

Some members of the community were believed to have been killed in the attack. Some of the victims were fishermen who were going about their job.

“The gunship, on a routine patrol this morning, spotted some barges used by the bunkerers. Accordingly, the barges were destroyed,” said Major Said Hammed, spokesman for the joint military task force based in the Delta.

Hammed said it was not clear whether anyone had been killed in the attack. Around eight barges were destroyed on a river near the scene of the attack.

MEND in a statement on the development said: “At about 1500 hours ... a military helicopter belonging to the Nigerian Army attacked Ijaw communities in the Gbaramatu area of Delta State, firing rockets and machine guns at targets on land.

“This helicopter took off from the Osubi airstrip operated by Shell Petroleum in Warri. This airstrip is supposed to be utilised for civilian purposes but is now apparently being utilised by the military with the consent of Shell as a staging ground for attacks on Ijaw settlements in the Niger Delta.

“We are very well capable of shooting down aircraft landing and taking off from this airstrip” and might do so if “the use of this privately-owned civilian airstrip for military operations is not discontinued.”

Consequent upon the raid, residents began to flee their homes to neighbouring communities. It was further learnt that the chopper used in launching the assault took off from the Osubi airport operated by Shell.

Speaking to newsmen from his hideout, chairman of the community, Chief Ebiwei Perezouweikore said: “They attacked our people with rocket launchers and so many people are right now missing. Somebody’s hand was cut off by bullet, while several people were inflicted with bullet wounds. We are calling on the Federal Government to come to our rescue. War has been declared on us. Those who were fishing when the attack was launched sustained several injuries and we are looking for over eight persons and we do not know if they are dead now.

“Before now, the Niger Delta had been peaceful. We do not want any further problem but what the JTF is doing now is capable of sparking off another round of crisis in the Niger Delta because our people have been killed. How can they come and attack us when we have not done any thing? Let them tell us what we have done to warrant this onslaught against us. This is barbaric and the state government must intervene quickly so that it will not generate to a situation whereby our youths would want to retaliate.”

Here is a report from Thursday's ThisDay Online:

Air Force Bombs Oil Bunkerers
From Segun James in Warri, 02.16.2006

The patience of the Federal Government with communities suspected to be harbouring militant Niger Delta youths waned yesterday as its Joint Military Task Force in the Niger Delta, Operation Restore Hope, bombarded Okorenkoko, an Ijaw community in Warri.

Although the military said its action was targeted at illegal oil bunkerers at the community believed to be the stronghold of Ijaw militant youths, the community leaders claimed that about 20 persons died while several others sustained serious injuries.

Confirming the operation spearheaded by the Nigerian Air Force unit attached to the task force, the Public Relations Officer of the task force, Major Saheed Hammed, said while on field patrol, a military helicopter sighted some barges used for oil bunkering along the creek adjacent to Okorenkoko and subsequently reported the incidence to base.

Hammed said the task force commander, Brig. Gen Elias Zamani, in turn reported to the Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. Alexander Ogomudia, who ordered the air strike.
Accordingly, he said, the Air Force was ordered to destroy the barges. “The bombardment of the barges caused an explosion, which community leaders now refer to as the bombardment of the entire community.”

But community leaders who spoke anonymously to THISDAY in Warri claimed four Air Force helicopters carried out the aerial bombardment that left about 20 civilians dead.

According to them, the community reputed as the heartland of Ijaw youth militancy, has been the target of the military since some Ijaw youths took hostage, in January four expatriates working for an oil servicing company engaged by Shell Petroleum Development Company.

The community leaders said the military had left them in no doubt that government believed the hostages were detained Okorenkoko, explaining that its difficult terrain had made it difficult for any operation by the Nigerian Army.

The military operation, which reportedly took place around 1pm yesterday, left the oil city of Warri swarming with victims of the bombardment who claimed the military aircraft took off from Osubi Airstrip, owned by Shell, to rain bombs on their community.

The victims, most of whom were brought in by speedboats, had [multiple] wounds, and soldiers guarding the Miller Waterside Jetty prevented newsmen from speaking to them as they were being evacuated.

It would be recalled that elders of the last week expressed fears of a possible attack on the community by the military.

Perhaps fearing a reprisal attack on account of claims that its airstrip was used as a base by the military for the attack, Shell’s spokesman, Mr. Joe Aniah, said the airstrip was under the management of the Federal Government and, therefore, was not in a position to confirm that the military helicopters used for the operation took off from the airstrip.

“All enquiries should be referred to the military,” he said.

The Federal Government had in recent times expressed grave concern about the growing youth restlessness in the Niger Delta, saying some of the militant activities of the youth bordered on criminality.

President Olusegun Obasanjo had Tuesday in Abuja warned that the Federal Government’s patience was growing thin and that it would have zero tolerance for criminal activities in the restive region.

The attack on the smugglers was also covered in Thursday's Daily Champion:

N/Delta: Military bombards militants

LUKE OKORO with agency reports

The Nigerian military yesterday launched a helicopter gunship attack on targets in the oil-producing Niger Delta region even as militants threatened to shoot down aircraft unless military flights stopped.

The attack was the first major military operation in the Niger Delta since a militant group staged a series of attacks against the oil industry, and hours after British Foreign Minister, Jack Straw called on the Nigerian government to improve security in the region.

Militants from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) said the attack was against Ijaw communities in the Gbaramatu area, but a Navy source said it was directed against oil barges suspected of being used in the theft of crude oil.

"A military helicopter belonging to the Nigerian Army attacked Ijaw communities in Gbaramatu area firing rockets and machine guns at targets on land," the militants said in an e-mail statement.

The helicopter took off from the Osubi airstrip in Warri, operated by Royal Dutch Shell, which militants said was meant to be a civilian airfield, a claim the oil company denied.

"Operators of civilian aircraft in this airfield will do well to advise Shell to desist from the practice of permitting the use of this airfield for military use," the militants said.

"We are very well capable of shooting down aircraft landing and taking off from this airstrip and may consider doing so should it be discovered that the use of this privately owned civilian airstrip for military operations is not discontinued."

Industry and government officials estimate that about 100,000 barrels a day, or five per cent of Nigerian oil output, is stolen by well-connected Nigerian criminal gangs working with international syndicates.

The proceeds often go toward buying arms for gangs in the Delta, fuelling a cycle of violence.

A boat taxi operator in Warri town said he thought yesterday attack might be directed against people who have opened a hole in a pipeline in that area operated by the state oil company which feeds the Warri refinery.

The 125,000 barrel-a-day refinery has been shut since last month because of the damaged pipeline.

Reacting to the incident, Anglo Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) yesterday denied claims by MEND that its (Shell’s) helicopter was bombing private houses in Warri, Delta State.

A statement from the SPDC in Lagos explained that MEND’s claims were false as Shell could not in any circumstance decide to destroy human lives.

Putting the picture of what happened in perspective the management of Shell noted that the said attack was carried out by the "Joint Task Force (JTF), which sighted illegal bunkering barges with their helicopter and had to destroy those barges."

Although the extent of damage could not be established as at press time, Shell, however distanced itself from any bombing.

The company maintained that its policy had remained to ensure safety in its operational areas and to lease any area when safety could not be guaranteed.

It would be recalled that the company had been at the receiving end of hostilities in the Niger Delta in the past few months.

After meeting with top Shell executives in Port Harcourt, at the other end of the Delta, Straw said oil theft was going down, but added that more had to be done to reassure the international community and encourage investment in Nigeria. Some areas of the Delta were still lawless, he added.

"There is a big security challenge. A lot of effective security enforcement depends very significantly on cooperation that can be achieved at a state level," Straw said.

"This Delta covers a number of states. In some you have good quality leaders, in others less good quality. That is reflected in the security situation in the Delta," he said.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, which is fighting for more local control over the oil wealth, cut Nigerian oil output by 10 per cent last month with a series of attacks on oil pipelines and plaftorms.

They also kidnapped four foreign oil workers, including a Briton, for 19 days.

A military response had been expected because the militants, who are heavily armed and operate in speedboats with military-style efficiency, killed 14 soldiers in one attack on an oil platform on January 13.

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