Nigerian militants launch new attacks in 'oil war'

Nigerian militants launch new attacks in ‘oil war’

Austin Ekeinde
Nigerian militants on Monday attacked a Shell-operated oil installation, forcing the evacuation of nearly 100 people, in a third day of heavy fighting with security forces in the Niger Delta region.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (Mend) declared an “oil war” on Sunday and warned all oil workers to evacuate the delta immediately, threatening to further disrupt production in the world’s eighth largest oil exporter.

“Mend reiterates its previous warnings to all oil workers in the entire Niger Delta region to evacuate from oil facilities and halt production with immediate effect or they will have themselves to blame,” the group said in an emailed statement.

The fighting has not yet affected the country’s oil production because some of the facilities attacked in the last three days seem to have already been shut down by previous assaults, security sources said.

Oil traders shrugged off the escalation in violence as prices traded at a six-month low below $100 a barrel on Monday.

About 10 militant gunboats attacked a Royal Dutch Shell flow station at Alakiri in Rivers state on Monday, an army spokesperson said. Two employees were killed in the clashes and Shell has evacuated nearly 100 staff from the facility, an industry source said.

A Shell spokesperson said it was investigating the reports.

“The attack lasted over an hour. Dynamite and bombs were massively detonated by the miscreants,” said Lieutenant Colonel Sagi Musa, spokesperson for the military task force in Rivers state.
“The situation is being closely monitored and is under control.”

Casualties
Musa said militants incurred heavy losses in the last three days and no soldiers were killed. He would not specify the number of casualties.

Mend, whose campaign of violence has cut a fifth of the country’s oil output, said at least 22 soldiers and seven others had been killed since Saturday.

It was not possible to independently verify claims from either side.

Two security sources in the oil industry, who did not want to be named, said more than 100 people may have been killed by the fighting, which involved the army, navy and air force.

“This is just the start of a major military offensive in the delta that is likely to continue for the next couple of weeks,” a security source said.

“The military has declined to say how many people have died for fear of whipping up public sentiment against them,” he added.

Musa on Sunday denied the military had launched a major offensive, saying it was responding to assaults from militants. Mend said the military attacks were unprovoked.

The Niger Delta is a vast network of narrow creeks and remote villages, and initial reports of fighting are often confused. The military and the militants regularly accuse each other of propaganda when clashes take place.

Mend has also attacked a Chevron oil platform and Shell-operated pipelines and gas plant in the last three days.

Chevron has confirmed the attack on its oil platform, while Shell is investigating the reports of sabotage on its facilities.

The deteriorating security situation in the delta, home to Nigeria’s oil sector, is considered to be the biggest hindrance to economic growth in Africa’s most populous country.—Reuters

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