Nigerian militants release foreign oil workers

Militants in Nigeria have freed seven foreign oil workers seized during an attack earlier this month on an ExxonMobil compound, a spokesperson for the company said.

The seven were taken hostage on October 3 during a raid on a residential compound housing ExxonMobil employees in the southern Niger Delta town of Eket. Two guards were killed by the attackers.

ExxonMobil spokesperson Paul Arinze said Nigerian government officials informed the company on Saturday that all the hostages—four Scottish oil workers, a Romanian, an Indonesian and a Malaysian—had been released.

“We got a notification they have been released and they’re all in good health,” Arinze said.

Malcolm Wilson, chief operating officer of Sparrows Offshore, the Scottish firm that employs three of the British men, confirmed their release and said it was the result of “intensive efforts by the governments and companies involved”.

“Our three colleagues have already spoken to their wives by telephone. All are delighted at this outcome,” Wilson said.
“We have spoken to the men and they are in good spirits, but we have arranged medical checks as a routine precaution before they fly back.”

Eket is located outside the main oil-centre city of Port Harcourt, in Akwa Ibom state, and the attack was the first of its kind on ExxonMobil in Nigeria’s volatile delta region, though multinational companies operating in the area are frequent targets.

The hostages were handed over by the Nigerian government to officials of ExxonMobil at Eket on Saturday, another company official, Yemi Fakajjo, said. The men were subsequently taken by helicopter to a military air base in Port Harcourt and flown to Nigeria’s economic capital, Lagos, en route to their various countries, he said.

Attacks by militant groups over the past year have cut nearly a quarter of Nigeria’s usual output of 2,5-million barrels of oil daily. Nigeria is Africa’s largest petroleum producer and the fifth-largest supplier of crude oil to the United States, but most people in the southern oil region remain deeply impoverished, fuelling the armed dissident groups.

More than two dozen oil workers have been kidnapped this year. Hostage takings generally end peacefully, with the targets returned unharmed.

Arinze said rumours that one of the hostages had died were false.

Romania’s Foreign Ministry confirmed in a statement issued in Bucharest that Romanian oil worker Emil Neagu who was among the hostages had been freed and was in good health.

Britain’s Press Association news agency identified the four Britons held as Paul Smith (30), of Peterhead, Scotland; Graham Mclean (43), of Elgin, Scotland; Sandy Cruden, of Inverurie, Scotland; and Graeme Buchan, whose age and home town were not given.—Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Dan Udoh contributed to this report from Port Harcourt

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